Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:3420
Posts / Week:8.4
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

The mysteries of 13.5

China is in the throes of hammering out its next five-year plan, on the model of the USSR.  For China, the current one they're working on is the thirteenth, so they refer to it as 13.5.  In Mandarin, that would be shís?nw? ???.  Although the Communist bureaucrats think these five-year plans are hugely important, for […]

"Are you Henry David Thoreau?"

A few minutes ago, an earnest-looking stranger came up to me on the sidewalk and asked "Are you Henry David Thoreau?" I shook my head and kept walking. And I'm pretty sure that was the right choice. But to satisfy my idle curiosity, can anyone tell me what he was selling?


The first couple of panels of today's SMBC: The next few panels suggest that technically, it's more of a pragmatic argument, in that the argument is about speaker's meaning rather than literal meaning — though the ordinary-language meaning of pragmatic is almost directly the opposite of what's needed here: And the last couple of panels […]

Zuckerberg's Mandarin, ch. 2

Just a little over a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled to China and the world that he was willing to speak publicly in Mandarin: "Zuckerberg's Mandarin" (10/23/14). That post includes a video which allows us to watch and listen to his every gesture and word.  Now he's back at it again at the exact same location, […]

The misery of existence

Sign on the front of an audiovisual equipment supplier in Pudong, Shanghai: (Source of photograph) Lóngshèng x?ng dìdài ?????.  I think that their English name is Longshengxing Zone. Since lóngshèng x?ng ??? means something like "star of prosperity / grandeur / magnificence" and dìdài ?? does indeed mean "zone", the Chinese name of the store […]

English in Chinese: over?, out?, ?low?, ?out?

Note from Gábor Ugray: I just came across a hugely exciting conversation on Twitter, about English words mixed in with Chinese / adopted into Chinese speech – as seen in the subject line. There’s no easy way to extract conversations from Twitter, but it’s all in Liz Carter's feed today: The character that occurs four […]

"Hastily diagrams sentence"

Thoreau, "I don’t cry for yesterday; there’s an ordinary world", 10/22/2015: Ah!  Clinton vs. Bush with an insane billionaire in the mix and the latest Whitewater/Vince Foster sequels already brewing!  It’s 1992 all over again.  Except this time I’m not single and trying to work up the courage to ask a girl out.  Things are […]

"Often more [difficulty] than in this chosen pair"

We've often complained about the ignorant aftermath of E.B. White's ignorant 1959 incitement to which-hunting, which launched the idea that restrictive (or integrated, or defining) relative clauses should be introduced by that, while non-restrictive (or supplementary, or non-defining) relative clauses should be introduced by which. Show More Summary

Charged with prejudice and paranoia

Peculiar ad for a portable charger from AliExpress: The same ad for an earlier model of the charger appears here. Since AliExpress is a Chinese mail order site, and since there is good evidence that these products are Chinese fakes (see the discussion in the comments section here), I suspect that this may be a […]

Another casualty of austerity

Several people have pointed me to this article, which has circulated again recently despite being eight years old — "Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs", The Onion 11/30/2007: Faced with ongoing budget...Show More Summary

Beijing Noshery

An old photograph in my files (from about five years ago): Hùguó sì xi?och? Fùqiáo diàn ???????? ("Nation Protecting Temple snacks Fuqiao branch") This particular snack shop is probably located near West 2nd Ring Road Rd. just inside Guang'an Gate. Hùguó sì xi?och? ??? ?? ("Nation Protecting Temple snacks") is a category of small shops selling […]

More Flesch-Kincaid grade-level nonsense

Matt Viser, "For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates" (" Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level"), Boston Globe 10.20/2015: When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, he decried the lack of intelligence of elected officials in characteristically blunt terms. Show More Summary

Together, let's do what?

I happened to be walking past the Abramson Cancer Center this afternoon, and this reminded me that every day last summer in Paris, I walked past the Institut Curie, whose building was adorned in several places with the slogan "Ensemble, prenons le cancer de vitesse" — as on the home page of their web site: […]


Austin Ramzy, "Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia, Raises Eyebrows With Emojis", NYT 10/22/2015: What, exactly, does that scowling, red-faced emoji mean? I’m mad? Frustrated? Sunburned?   The question, which has plagued more...Show More Summary


On the DramaFever website, Brendan Fitzgibbons has an interesting article that shows how "New font lets anyone learn Japanese" (10/17/14): Although the article dates to a year ago, it turns out to be timely, at least for me, since just within the last two days I found out about an attempt to write English in a […]

Oral history to be exempt from IRB review?

Donald Ritchie, "Good news for scholars doing oral history! The federal government is preparing to grant them a right to be excluded from IRBs", History News Network 10/13/2015: Here are the details according to an announcement on the website of the Oral History Association: "On September 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human […]

Describing events

A French friend who recently stayed with me for a week or so clearly experienced baseball in roughly this way (except  without the focused attention): Mouseover title: "The thrower started hitting the bats too much, so the king of the game told him to leave and brought out another thrower from thrower jail."

Protection from Carson and Trump

"Donald Trump and Ben Carson ask for 24-hour secret service protection", The Guardian (Reuters) 10/19/2015 [emphasis added]: “The Department of Homeland Security has now received official requests for secret service protection from both the Carson and Trump campaigns,” spokesman SY Lee said. Show More Summary

Alien encounter

I read Ancillary Justice, the first book in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series, at some point in the spring of 2014, and so I was not at all surprised to find Brad DeLong referring to her as "an extremely sharp observer […] author of the devastatingly-good Ancillary Justice", in a blog post "Ann Leckie on David Graeber's "Debt: The […]

Handwriting legibility

Calvin Ho sent in the following photograph: Calvin explains: Here's the story: A friend of mine gave an elderly woman a ride during a heatwave. He did not speak Mandarin and she did not speak much English. All he could figure out from their conversation was that she was from Beijing. She scribbled this note […]

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