Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:2955
Posts / Week:7.9
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

It's not easy seeing green

The whole dress that melted the internet thing has brought back a curious example of semi-pro semi-demi-science about a Namibian tribe that can't distinguish green and blue, but does see lots of different kinds of greeen that look just the same to us Westerners. This story has been floating around the internets for several years, in places […]

Joshua Fishman (1926-2015)

Joshua Fishman, a founder of the field of the sociology of language and a highly influential scholar of language planning and bilingual education, died last night at his home in the Bronx at the age of 88. The following remembrance, written by Ofelia García (Professor in the Ph.D. programs of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures […]

Bad advice on being a good writer

Part 2 of the Wikihow listicle "Be a Good Writer" is about learning vital skills, and item 3 of part 2 says you should "Learn the rules of grammar". Where should you turn to find out what they are? The article says: If you have a question about grammar, refer to a grammar book, such […]


Jan Söhlke sent in this photograph taken in a shop in Vienna: An "Anti-Mund-Schuessel" ("anti-mouth-bowl") is strange enough in German, but we can't blame it entirely on the translator, whether machine or human, because the Chinese is odd too. f?nk?u w?n ??? does literally mean "anti-mouth-bowl" N.B.:  f?n ? — "anti-; counter-; rebel; revolt; turn […]

Voice recognition vs. Shandong accent

The following video is very popular in China now: This is hilarious! Even if you don't understand Chinese, you'll be able to follow what's going on.  The driver is trying to enter a phone number by voice, but the automated (machine) operator mishears him.  It gets really funny when he tells the operator that a […]

No word for "serve" in Chinese?

Michael Rank sent in this photograph taken at the Shanghai restaurant in Dalston, London E8: The sign on the wall says: lóumiàn yuáng?ng zhùyì! q?ng zài Serve y?np?n qián ji?nchá q?ngch? su?y?u b?i shìf?u q?ngjié cái k? sh?yòng ??????! ??Serve??? ??????? ???????? floor staff note! before serving drinks please carefully examine all glasses [to see] […]

Fake account spotting on Facebook

One language-related story in the British press over the weekend was that Gavin McGowan was threatened by Facebook with having his account shut down… because they said his name was fake. About ten years ago Gavin learned some Scottish Gaelic and started using the Gaelic spelling of his name: Gabhan Mac A Ghobhainn. Facebook is […]


In China (and around the world among China watchers), everybody's talking about this ungainly syllable.  "Duang" surfaced less than a week ago, but already it has been used millions and millions of times. "The Word That Broke the Chinese Internet" (2/27/15) by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian "'Duang' is Everywhere on the Chinese Internets, Here’s What It Means" […]

We play Haydn until the sun comes up

Kevin Knight wrote that "our approach to syntax in machine translation is best described in D. Barthelme's short story 'They called for more structure'", and a few days ago, Jason Eisner described what Kevin meant. So in the same spirit,  here's Donald Barthelme on the past future of journalism,  originally published under the title "Pepperoni" in the New Yorker, in […]


On Thursday and Friday, I participated in a workshop on"Statistical Challenges in Assessing and Fostering the Reproducibility of Scientific Results" at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. Some of the presentations were even more horrifying than I expected — at one point, an audience member was moved to ask half-seriously whether ANY reproducible result […]

Transplant semantics

Jessica Firger, "First human head transplant two years away, says one surgeon", CBS News 2/26/2015: Most people can't wrap their head around the concept. But one scientist believes head transplants in humans are possible and that the first could occur as early as 2017. In expressions of the form X transplant, for X=kidney, heart, etc., […]

Jihadi Jim

There's been a certain amount of discussion in the media about the accent of the ISIS spokesman on the video showing the mass beheading of Egyptian christians on a beach in Libya, e.g. on ABC News here. But the video itself has been kept off of the internet, for obvious reasons, which limits the opportunity […]

SCOTUS: A fish is not a "tangible object"

At least, a fish is not a "tangible object" in the context of 18 U. S. C. §1519: Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within […]

"Imitation Game" codebreakers also played the palindrome game

Doc, note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod. Is this the best palindrome ever created in English? Many think so. (I agree.) But did you know that it was made by the British mathematician Peter Hilton, while working alongside Alan Turing as an "Enigma" codebreaker during World War II? […]

SOCAL is getting fleeked out

[Guest post by Taylor Jones] For anyone who's been living under a rock for the past few months, there is a term, "on fleek," that has been around since at least 2003, but which caught like wildfire on social media after June 21, 2014, when Vine user Peaches Monroe made a video declaring her eyebrows […]

Query: Punctuation in personal digital media

From Jessica Bennett: Friends! I'm doing a piece for the NYT about the ways punctuation has changed — and taken new weight — in the texting era. For example: I've started putting a space before an exclamation point in text messages, ie, "Can't wait !" Didn't immediately realize this but upon further reflection decided this […]

Awesome foods

Felix Sadeli sent in this list of colossal mistranslations of food names. We've already seen several of these and explained a number of them on Language Log: "Puke " (10/8/10) "Gourmet Chinese cookshop " (1/27/14) — "Soup for Sluts" (in the comments) "Combating the monolithic tree mushroom stem squid " (5/3/10) ("The jew's ear Juice" — […]

Oscar crash blossom

Attachment ambiguity strikes again! Originally the headline was "Screenwriter Graham Moore reveals he tried to commit suicide during 2015 Oscars acceptance speech for 'The Imitation Game'". Now it's "Screenwriter Graham Moore reveals during Oscars acceptance speech for 'The Imitation Game' that he tried to commit suicide at 16", Daily News 2/23/2015.   [h/t Omri Ceren]   […]

"They called for more structure"

From Kevin Knight's home page: I think our approach to syntax in machine translation is best described in D. Barthelme's short story They called for more structure…. In case you didn't follow the link, and to guard against future link rot: They called for more structure, then, so we brought in some big hairy four-by-fours […]

Solving the mystery of "off the cuff"

Peter Reitan, "Paper Linen and Crib Notes – A Well-Planned History of 'Off the Cuff'", Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog, 2/20/2015, following up on "The 'off the cuff' mystery", 8/16/2012: The idiom, “off the cuff,” meaning “without preparation... as if from impromptu notes made on one’s shirt cuffs,” dates to the […]

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