Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:3215
Posts / Week:8.2
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

The great creak-off of 1969

In a comment on yesterday's post about Noam Chomsky's use of creaky voice ("And we have a winner…", 7/26/2015), Tara wrote At the risk of sounding like I missed the joke: creakiness in a speaker Chomsky's age is much more likely to be physiological in origin than stylistic. I checked older footage of Chomsky, and […]

And we have a winner…

Back in February, Arika Okrent asked "What is vocal fry?", in her column at Mental Floss. And she pointed out that People’s voices naturally drop in pitch at the end of phrases, and in many speakers, it will drop into the fry zone at that point. The evidence that it’s a female thing is also […]

Cameron v. Wolf

Naomi Wolf, "Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice", The Guardian 7/24/2015: What’s heartbreaking about the trend for destructive speech patterns is that yours is the most transformational generation – you’re disowning your power. […] [T]he most empowered generation of women ever – today’s twentysomethings in North America and […]

Where the curses are

Jack Grieve on cussing GIS (Lorenzo Ligato, "Which Curse Words Are Popular In Your State?", HuffPost 7/17/2015) — it's not a big surprise that darn is popular in the upper midwest: But I wouldn't have predicted that gosh was such a border-state thing: Or that the south would have an asshole deficit: Perhaps partly compensated by a […]


Back in mid-December, 2013, I started assembling materials for a post about the differences between Chinese and Japanese writing.  I think that someone (I forget who) sent me a couple of links that stimulated me to think about this topic, and then I added some things of my own.  That was about as far as […]

More Pinker peace creak

Yesterday ("Pinker peace creak") I followed up on Breffni's reference to vocal fry/creak  in the speech of the young woman who introduces Steven Pinker's talk at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum. And indeed, in her first 40 words (16 seconds of audio, 8.3 seconds of voiced speech, 1,653 f0 estimate) I found three clear examples of […]

Learning 100 characters at age 100

Xinhua / New China informs us: After attending a 10-day literacy course, Zhao Shunjin, who had never learned to read or write, mastered over 100 Chinese characters at the age of 100. Zhao, a former vegetable vendor from Hangzhou City in east China's Zhejiang Province, had never been to school and knew no characters except […]

Pinker peace creak

As Breffni noted yesterday in a comment on "Male vocal fry", the young woman introducing Steven Pinker's speech at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum frequently exhibits lots of period-doubling — what the popular press generally calls "vocal fry", though "creaky voice due to period-doubling" would be a more correct description. Show More Summary


In the most recent Out There, Miriam supports Noam Chomsky's ideas about language and communication: From Wiktor Osiatynski, Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future (1984): QUESTION: As I understand, language has an innate biological basis. Its use, however, is social. What do you think of the social functions of language? Is it primarily an […]

Religions ranked by Google

Jonathan Falk asks: If this isn't some form of zeugma, what would you call it? Cyber-zeugma? Auto-zeugma? PDF has become the fourth most popular religion! Watch out we are rising! — Isaac Alonzo (@makatron) July 15, 2015 I guess I'd call it meta-zeugma or maybe trans-zeugma… If the list elements were combined in an explicit […]

Il ne parle pas Français

It seems impossible, but the news is being trumpeted all over the world:  the reigning champion of Francophone Scrabble cannot speak French. "Kiwi Nigel Richards wins French Scrabble contest, doesn't even speak French" (7/21/15) President of the Christchurch Scrabble club Shirley Hol said the French win was "quite remarkable". She was told about his victory […]

Fresh Air on "policing" young women's voices

"From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices?", Fresh Air (NPR), 7/23/2015: Journalist Jessica Grose is no stranger to criticism of her voice. When she was co-hosting the Slate podcast, the DoubleX Gabfest, she would receive emails complaining about her "upspeak" — a tendency to raise her voice at the end of […]

Stepping stones

From Jerry Clough: Apropos of nothing in particular I noted that the Wikipedia article on what I call "stepping stones" is called "step-stone bridge".   I assumed that this was yet another Americanism, but I can't find it in dictionaries here, or any uses of this and related terms using Google ngrams. The useful reference […]

Male vocal fry

Jaya Saxena, "Examples of Male Vocal Fry", The Toast 7/22/2015, presents YouTube videos of a bunch of well-known males (human and otherwise) exhibiting so-called vocal fry. There's no textual commentary — but the choice of examples, and the word "male" in the title, underlines the fact that young women are currently being criticized for a phenomenon that can be […]

Pinyin with Chinese characters

Matt Keefe came across this sign on a San Francisco streetcar in April: Unlike the pinyin on this umbrella bagging machine, the pinyin on this sign not only is accompanied with Chinese characters, it also comes with tones marked and with proper spacing: Zhège zuòwèi y? bèi jìnyòng ch? yú ?nquán yuány?n. Q?ng bùyào zuò zài […]

A quick exit for Cantonese

On his blog, "Throwing Pebbles", the journalist Yuen Chan describes how hard it is nowadays to find a decent elementary school in Hong Kong that offers instruction in Cantonese, rather than in Mandarin: "Mother-tongue Squeezed Out of the Chinese Classroom in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong" (7/22/15) This despite the fact that Cantonese is the mother tongue […]

Spice lists

Today xkcd: Mouseover title: "The Earth's five major mass extinctions were the Posh Extinction, the Sporty Extinction, the Scary Extinction, the Ginger Extinction, and the Baby Extinction." There are many other possibilities, for example...Show More Summary


Emily Landau, "Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First", Think Inclusive 7/20/2015: There are two main types of language used to refer disability: person-first language and what is known as identity-first language (IFL). PFL as a concept originated among people who wanted to fight back against stigma. In a society that perceived disability […]

Pinyin without Chinese characters

Occasionally one encounters pinyin with no hanzi (Chinese characters); see at the bottom of this photograph taken by Randy Alexander at a small mall right across from the main entrance to Xiamen (Amoy) University: It looks like a strange contraption, but the picture on the side tells us that it has something to do with […]

Failing words in Myanmar

Thomas Fuller, "Those Who Would Remake Myanmar Find That Words Fail Them", NYT 7/19/2015: It’s the dawn of democracy in Myanmar. If only the Burmese had their own word for it.  As this former dictatorship opens to the world, language is a stumbling block.   For half a century, Myanmar was so cut off from […]

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