Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:4082
Posts / Week:9.1
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Annals of parsing

Two of the hardest problems in English-language parsing are prepositional phrase attachment and scope of conjunction. For PP attachment, the problem is to figure out how a phrase-final prepositional phrase relates to the rest of the sentence — the classic example is "I saw a man in the park with a telescope". For conjunction scope, the […]

Unattended luggage

On her way back from Cornwall in April, Janet (Geok Hoon) Williams saw this sign, put up by Great Western Railway, at the train station: The Chinese reads: zài ?nquánxìng f?ngmiàn de lìyì q?ng bùyào lík?i n? de xíngl? wú rén k?ngu?n ????????? ????????????? "For the benefit of the aspect of security, don't depart from […]

Gestures of death

Shaun King, "North Carolina police kill unarmed deaf man using sign language", New York Daily News 8/22/2016: This is as bad as it gets. A North Carolina state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel Harris — who was not only unarmed, but deaf — just feet from his home, over a speeding violation. According to […]

The Festival are clear

One of the rare syntactic dialect differences between British and American English (there really aren't many) concerns verb agreement in present-tense clauses: British English strongly favors plural agreement with any singular subject noun phrase that denotes a collectivity of individuals rather than a unitary individual. Show More Summary

Modal logic of traffic signs

Sent in by Michael Robinson: I saw this traffic sign in Toledo, Ohio. Luckily I wasn't driving a truck, or I would have had not idea what I was allowed to do. Since we were in a car, we figured U-turns must be OK. Because we were heading to a place that sold coffee, and […]

Bilingual Spanish-Chinese street signs

Germán Renedo recently noticed that the government has installed bilingual street signs in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires, where Chinatown is located. The signs transcribe the sounds of the Spanish words rather than translate their meanings. For instance, Arribeños ("those who came from the highlands and live on the coast"): ?l?bèini?s? ji? ?????? (ji? […]

Ask Language Log: why is "inch" a family relationship in Korean?

Katie Odhner asks: I have lately been teaching myself Korean and have become quite interested in Sino-Korean vocabulary. Recently two words in particular caught my attention: samchon ?? ("paternal uncle"), from Chinese s ?n cùn ?? ("three inches"), and sachon ?? ("cousin"), from Chinese sì cùn ?? ("four inches"). I wondered how "three inches" and "four inches" could […]

The Female Brain movie

Silas Lesnick, "An ensemble cast has come together for Whitney Cummings’ The Female Brain movie", 8/17/2016: Black Bicycle Entertainment has today announced the ensemble cast for their upcoming The Female Brain movie, which marks the directorial debut of Whitney Cummings. Cummings herself will also star in the film, which she co-wrote alongside Neal Brennan, […]

Heart residue

Stuart Luppescu writes: I recently ate at a yakiniku ?? ("grilled meat") place in Kyoto that serves only chicken and pork — rather atypical. One menu item was kokoronokori ???. I asked the server what that was, and was told it was the flesh, blood vessels, and fat around the heart that is left over when […]

Universal journalistic clichés?

Tank McNamara for 8/8/2016: There are certainly plenty of examples in the English-language news, some literal but most figurative. And French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch are not far behind. Are there any languages where (the...Show More Summary

Language is messy, part 2: Arabic script in "Arrival"

A few days ago I posted the trailer for the forthcoming science-fiction movie "Arrival," based on Ted Chiang's linguistically rich tale of alien contact, "Story of Your Life." While most commenters have wondered how well Chiang's xenolinguistics will translate to the big screen, a couple of eagle-eyed observers noted something worrying in the trailer: incredibly […]

Unpermitted erections

Yesterday morning at 8:00 a.m. local time, in five cities around the U.S., the anarchist collective INDECLINE erected five copies of a nude polychrome statue of Donald Trump. The New York City copy went up in Union Square, but was removed after about two hours by the Parks Department, whose spokesman Sam Biederman explained that "NYC […]

I am a cat?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson] Every once in a very long time, machine translation does something sublime. Usually ridiculous, but just occasionally sublime. Here's what happened to me the other day. First, let me begin with a mea culpa: I posted a cat video to the internet. Yes, I finally gave in […]

New frontiers in pseudo-Freudian slips

Jan Brewer, the former governor of Arizona, calls in once a week to the Mac & Gaydos radio show on KTAR in Glendale, Arizona. Her call on Tuesday 8/16/2016 featured this epic sequence, explaining why she doesn't think Donald Trump needs to run ads in Arizona: Your browser does not support the audio element. got […]

The narrow end of the funnel

The big political story of the past 24 hours: Stephen K. Bannon, formerly the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, has taken over as "chief executive" of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. The big linguistic story of the past 24 hours, at least here at Language Log: an exchange between Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum about the rhetorical […]

Internecine strife at Language Log?

Are we seeing the first signs of discord at Language Log Plaza? Mark Liberman seems to be flatly rebutting Geoff Pullum's "no structure at all" remark about what he calls "Trump's aphasia." Mark maintains that Trump's speaking style is no different in kind from any other human's spontaneous speech, even crediting him with "eloquence." Geoff, […]


Michael Rank took this photograph earlier today (8/16/16) and posted it on flickr: The shop is located in Hackney, London. Here's Michael's explanation of the wording on the signage: Vietnamese & Xi'anese street food, London E8 Xi'anese is comprehensible if you have heard of Xi'an ?? (“Western Peace”), ancient imperial capital and capital of modern […]

The rhetorical style of spontaneous speech

I want to follow up on my post about Daniel Libit's presentation of reporters' and transcriptionists' complaints about Donald Trump's speaking style ("The em-dash candidate", 8/15/2016). Libit uses words like "unintelligible", "jumble", "inarticulate", and he is far from the first person to offer a characterization along these lines. A year ago, Geoff Pullum used words […]

"Language is messy," says our new linguistic hero

In the new trailer for the science-fiction movie "Arrival," Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, some sort of mastermind in xenolinguistics. "You're at the top of everyone's list when it comes to translations," says Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker), before whisking her off to meet the newly arrived aliens she's tasked with interpreting. She seems […]

The em-dash candidate

Daniel Libit, "Transcribers' agony: Frustrated not by what Trump says but how he says it", CNBC 8/15/2016: Few conventions in political campaign coverage are as straightforward and unassailable as quoting a public figure verbatim. After all, how can there be any doubt when you are putting down the exact words someone says? And yet, as […]

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