Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:4596
Posts / Week:9.5
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Electric sheep

A couple of recent LLOG posts ("What a tangled web they weave", "A long short-term memory of Gertrude Stein") have illustrated the strange and amusing results that Google's current machine translation system can produce when fed variable numbers of repetitions of meaningless letter sequences in non-Latin orthographic systems. Geoff Pullum has urged me to explain how […]

Jesus is good, beef noodles are good, and so is money

From a Twitter account: The four big characters say: y?u qián zh?n h?o ???? It's really good to have money Above the large, red characters is a list of dishes served by the establishment.  They are mostly one or another kind of beef noodles. The notice under the DIY inside the red star asks customers […]

Russia is a surface but other countries are spaces?

In Finnish, that is. Garrett Wollman ("Some linguistic observations from my trip to Finland", Occasionally Coherent 4/14/2017) notes that Finnish differentiates between "surface" and "interior" relationships of position and motion: toward...Show More Summary

I (don't) doubt that the letter is fake

Somebody just sent me a note that begins, "I don’t doubt that the letter is fake…". From the context, I'm sure that the person who wrote the message to me is of the opinion that the letter is NOT fake.  Perhaps he is using the word "doubt" in the sense of "suspect".  Chinese do that […]

A long short-term memory of Gertrude Stein

As just observed ("What a tangled web they weave"), successive repetitions of short sequences of Japanese, Korean, Thai (and perhaps other types of) characters cause Google's Neural Machine Translation system to generate surprisingly varied and poetic English equivalents. Show More Summary

How not to learn Chinese

In "Sinological suffering" (3/31/17), "Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye" (3/24/17), and other recent posts, we examined the difficulty, for some the near impossibility, of mastering how to write hundreds and thousands of Chinese characters.  Yet, if one wishes to become literate in Chinese, one simply must do it.  Until the 21st century, there […]

Not not

This is NOT a post about misnegation, a frequent topic at Language Log.  This is a reflection on the sublimity of nonnegation, which is not quite the same as transcendental affirmation.  It is a linguistic and philosophical inquiry on the absence of nothingness. First comes the linguistics; at the end comes the philosophy. In Mandarin, […]

Mixed metaphor of the month

A friend of mine who works in the Federal government recently received an email posing this rhetorical question: How do agencies mitigate risks and achieve FedRAMP compliance in multi-tenant environments to successfully pave their way to the cloud? He naturally wondered whether there can ever be a paved road leading to a cloud. And I […]

Thoroughly earthy

Because I like the Chinese term t? ? ("earth; soil; dirt; ground; earthy; rustic; colloquial") so much, I was going to add the substance of the remarks below as a comment to the "Fun bun pun" (4/9/17) post, in which we devoted a lot of attention to one of my favorite expressions, "t?b?ozi ???" ("earthy […]

Mongolian transliterations of Donald Trump's name

We've looked fairly intensively at transcriptions of our new President's name in Chinese and, en passant, in Japanese, Korean, and other languages: "Trump translated" (8/31/16) — about halfway down in the o.p. "Transcription of "Barack...Show More Summary

You couldn't fail to miss Melania

Mr John Kelly, an attorney for Melania Trump, reading out a statement concerning why she has just scored nearly $3million in a London libel suit (reported here in The Guardian): The article was illustrated with an old photograph of the claimant standing naked with her front against a wall but her face turned towards the […]

Tribute: Burton Watson, 1925 – 2017

During the second half of the twentieth century and well into the twenty-first century, Burton Watson translated a wide range of works of premodern Chinese literature into highly readable, reliable English. His numerous published translations span the gamut of Chinese texts from history to poetry, prose, philosophy, and religion.  He was also an accomplished translator […]

The Language Log Experience

Recently this video, or links to it, have been showing up on just about every web page I visit: Apparently I'm being targeted because I bought a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud through the University of Pennsylvania, and therefore Adobe thinks that that Penn and I are likely candidates for Adobe Experience Cloud, which gives you […]

She would evaporate slippery chickens were north

Just because I haven't written a post about Chinglish for many moons doesn't mean that it has disappeared.  In fact, the following is such a paramount specimen that I would be remiss not to bring it to the attention of Language Log readers. From C. Grieve (who comments "I'm assuming the restaurant was a greasy […]

R.I.P. Osama Fujimura (1927-2017)

In 1975, Osamu Fujimura hired me as a Member of Technical Staff in his new Linguistics Research Department at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J.  I spent 15 formative years there, and I owe a great deal to the environment that he created. Osamu's degree was in physics from the University of Tokyo in 1962, and he […]

'Tis the Season: blooming in translation and in art

Jocelyn Ireson-Paine came across the Language Log posts which mention blooming: the increase in size of translated texts. She draws, and this made her think that if line drawing is regarded as translation from an original scene to lines, blooming can occur there too. She has written a brief note on this in "Drawing as […]

Country list translation oddity

This is weird, and even slightly creepy — paste a list of countries like Costa Rica, Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, England, Guatemala, Honduras,...Show More Summary

Active agent avoidance

In a long list of LLOG posts over the years, we've observed the widespread (and false) folk-linguistic view that the grammatical term passive means "vague about agency". (You can learn what it really means from Geoff Pullum's 2011 post "The passive in English".) This confusion arises partly because passive verbs can sometimes be used to […]

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