Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:3580
Posts / Week:8.6
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

R.I.P. John Holm (1943-2015)

Today's New York Times includes an obituary for the pioneering creolist John Holm, with some remembrances from our own Sally Thomason. John Holm, a linguist who helped bring the study of creole and pidgin languages into the scholarly mainstream, died on Dec. 28 in Azeitão, Portugal. He was 72. The cause was prostate cancer, his […]

Dutch DE

Following up on yesterday's post "The case of the disappearing determiners", Gosse Bouma sent me some data from the CGN ("Corpus Gesproken Nederlands"), about determiner use in spoken Dutch by people born between 1914 and 1987. According to the CGN website, The Spoken Dutch Corpus project was aimed at the construction of a database of contemporary […]

Chinese phrases of the year 2015

We've already had a look at the candidates for Chinese Word of the Year 2015, but apparently that is too tame and lame, so now we also have to think about the top Chinese phrases of the year.  This photograph illustrates (or perhaps I should say "spawned") one: It's from the following article: "From Auras […]

Snapshot punishment

Photograph of highway sign from Jinghong (Thai Chiang Rung) in Sibsongbanna / Sipsong Panna / Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, PRC: We needn't worry overmuch about the first two directions (with the blue background), because they are basically rendered correctly (except for the typo of "Whithe" for "White"); note the use of "t" for […]

"Sherlock Holmes" and "clubfoot" in Chinese

Over at China Economic Review, Hudson Lockett has written an interesting piece worthy of the celebrated British sleuth: "The game is afoot! Why Chinese Sherlock fans are as confused as everyone else" (1/3/16) It's all about how the Chinese term — m?tí nèif?n zú ????? — for a congenital deformity referred to in English as […]

The case of the disappearing determiners

For the past century or so, the commonest word in English has gradually been getting less common. Depending on data source and counting method, the frequency of the definite article THE has fallen substantially — in some cases at a rate as high as 50% per 100 years. At every stage, writing that's less formal has fewer […]

Notable corrections

Noted by Geoff Nunberg, some linguistically relevant examples in Robert Rector collection of "The best (or worst) news media corrections of 2015", Pasadena Star-News 12/28/2015: “Norma Adams-Wade’s June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson Frenk a socialist. Show More Summary

Is it necessary to invent a new Chinese character for "ivory"?

In a recent post, we discussed the creation of hitherto unknown Chinese characters: "How to generate fake Chinese characters automatically" (12/30/15) In that post and in other Language Log posts, we have mentioned how artists and language enthusiasts sometimes make completely new characters, whether out of whimsy or out of a genuine felt need (as […]

Major who?

From Andrea Comiskey, a crash blossom on the National Weather Service's site: "Major to record flooding continues over portions of Mississippi River Valley". "Major Flooding" is the highest category defined on the map shown below, higher than "moderate flooding" and "minor flooding": That map doesn't have "record flooding" as a category, but needless to say, the […]

Reddit culturomics

Randy Olson and Ritchie King, "How The Internet Talks [Well, the mostly young and mostly male users of Reddit, anyway]", 11/18/2015. The interactive viewer reveals some interesting trends: Or this: And the data is available at, courtesy of Jason Baumgartner.

Seasonal formulaic pun

From here: $$\ln \left( \frac{e^{a_r} + p^2 H_a}{N} \right) = w – \ln (y) \\ % \ln (y) + \ln \left( \frac{e^{a_r} + p^2 H_a}{N} \right) = w \\ % \ln \left( \frac{e^{a_r} + p^2 H_a}{N} y \right) = w\\ % \frac{e^{a_r} + p^2 H_a}{N} y = e^w\\ % \left( H_a p^2 + e^{a_r} \right) […]

Grammatical politics

Geoff Nunberg posted this on his Facebook wall, with the note "Luring the grammar scolds in the Mission": Advertising genius, in my opinion. Two relevant recent columns by John McIntyre: "All hail the Unkown Peever", 12/29/2015 "What grammar arguments are really about", 12/30/2015  

Diminutives and reduplicatives in Chinese

It would seem natural that all languages have diminutives, but how diminutives are formed in different languages must vary considerably.  In most cases that I'm aware of in Indo-European languages, the addition of a special suffix denoting smallness or connoting endearment is typical, but in other cases there are more complicated mechanisms at play.  The […]

Irish DNA and Indo-European origins

"Scientists sequence first ancient Irish human genomes", Press Release from Trinity College Dublin: A team of geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen's University Belfast has sequenced the first genomesShow More Summary


Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, & R. Alexander Bentley, "The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books", PLOSOne 3/20/2013: We report here trends in the usage of “mood” words, that is, words carrying emotional content, in 20th century English language books, using the data set provided by Google that includes word frequencies in […]

How to generate fake Chinese characters automatically

On the otoro blog, there is another amazing article about sinograms: "Recurrent Net Dreams Up Fake Chinese Characters in Vector Format with TensorFlow" (12/28/15) I say "another amazing article" because, just a week ago, in "Character building is costly and time consuming" (12/22/15), we looked at a fascinating report on the vast amount of labor […]

The billion-dollar conjunction

Josh Kosman, "Caesars may sink because of allege $3B typo", New York Post 12/14/2015: Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management is now defending itself against an alleged typo that could cost up to $3 billion. […] Caesars in its 2008 debt agreement set conditions that would need to be met so it could strip the guarantee […]

Bob Dylan can't even

For Bob Dylan connoisseurs, the release of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 is a momentous occasion. It encompasses the studio sessions that gave us the albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, and it's available as a 2-CD sampler, a reasonable 6-CD version, and an […]

Free digital books

All Synthèse books published before 2005 appear to be free to download in.pdf form from Springer. I haven't verified that this is true for IP addresses outside of universities with a subscription, but I think it is. This include the series Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy, but there are likely to be other titles of interest to […]

Use the rest room beautifully

This is a sign above a urinal at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies taken by Joseph Williams who was there for a Japanese test.  Besides the Japanglish, it's interesting that spaces are added between the words.  And there are no kanji. Toire wa kirei ni tsukatte kudasai ????  ????  ????  ???? The correct translation will […]

Copyright © 2015 Regator, LLC