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Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:4647
Posts / Week:13.2
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Trending in the Media: Um, not exactly…

I like journalists, really I do. But sometimes they make it hard for me to maintain my positive attitude. The recent flurry of U.K. media uptake of Language Log posts on UM and UH provides some examples of this stress and strain. Here's Stuart Jeffries, "Um or er: which do you, um, use more in, […]

Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects

By chance, I came across this most revealing section of a perceptive book by Linda Jakobson entitled A Million Truths: A Decade in China (pp. 175-177), which shows how people from different parts of China often don't really understand each other.  That includes people who are supposedly speaking different varieties of Mandarin.  I know this […]

Um, there's timing information in Switchboard?

We start with a psycholinguistic controversy. On one side, there's Herbert Clark and Jean Fox Tree, "Using uh and um in spontaneous speaking", Cognition 2002. The proposal examined here is that speakers use uh and um to announce that they are initiating what they expect to be a minor (uh), or major (um), delay in […]

Multilingual Jiang Zemin

This is an old video of Jiang Zemin berating a female reporter and defending the right of the central government in Beijing to handpick the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in this case the first, Tung Chee-hwa. The video, which is an amazing display of Jiang's verbal pyrotechnics, is getting a lot of circulation these […]

A record-setting pangrammatic window

A few months ago, I posted here (and on Slate's Lexicon Valley blog) about @PangramTweets, a bot created by Jesse Sheidlower that combs Twitter for tweets that include all 26 letters of the alphabet. I mentioned that it would be interesting to see if PangramTweets turns up any particularly short "pangrammatic windows," i.e., pangrammatic strings […]

Plural data

Today's xkcd: Mouseover title: "If you want to have more fun at the expense of language pedants, try developing an hypercorrection habit." That should be "…developing another hypercorrection habit", since making data plural in that situation is exactly analogous to using whom in "Whom are you, anyways?"

Translating the Umbrella Revolution

Far from prohibiting translation (see the last item here), the young demonstrators in Hong Kong are offering free translation services for the media and others who may be in need of them. The following photograph was shared on Twitter by Newsweek's Lauren Walker: While I'm not sure I'd fully rely on the guy on the […]


From David Donnell: "Not for nothin'," as the native NY'ers say, but I saw this commercial on the idiot-box tonight and was tickled by the play on words. Surprised to google and discover "half-fast" has been around for some time. But the TV ad still makes me laugh!

Tasteless coffee

From "Signspotting around the world: Funny fails", a "Lonely Planet travel signs" feature of CNN Travel, I have selected an ensemble of four signs to illustrate different types of translation difficulties. The first was spotted in a Beijing cafe: X?láitè k?f?i ????? That would be "X?láitè Coffee", with "X?láitè very much having the look of […]

Must-read for Wednesday afternoon

Josef Fruehwald, "America's Ugliest Accent: Something's ugly alright", Val Systems 10/1/2014.  

Failure not to make payment

From Dick Margulis, for the misnegation files: The source is a Facebook post, which you may or may not be able to read. Another picture of (another copy of?) the sign is here.


This is another one of those posts that I wanted to write long ago (actually almost a year ago), but it got lost in the shuffle until now, when I found it going through my old drafts. It was prompted by an article that Christine Gross-Loh wrote for The Atlantic (October 8, 2013) titled "Why […]

UM / UH in German

We've previously observed a surprisingly consistent pattern of age and gender effects on the relative frequency of filled pauses (or "hesitation sounds") with and without final nasals — what we usually write as "um" and "uh" in American English, or often as "er" and "erm" in British English. Specifically, younger people use the UM form […]


Left-handed toons from 8/13/2010, "Jasper got a dog", starts like this: And ends like this: Luckily for all of us, language doesn't work that way, except to some extent in NPR word puzzles. [h/t to Anders Horn]  

Evaluating terminological oppositions

In "Biomedical nerdview", I noted that the terms "sensitivity" and "specificity" seem to be hard to even for biomedical researchers to remember, and are deeply misleading from the perspective of patients and their physicians. I offered a "flash of insight" about why researchers chose to focus on the concepts — they're relevant to public health […]

400 years of referential inequality

In "More fun with Facebook Pronouns", I noted that Facebook posts by males use masculine rather than feminine pronouns about 70% of the time, while female facebookers are much closer to a 50/50 split between masculine and feminine pronominal reference (48% masculine, to be exact). Tanja S. commented that The discrepancy between male and female […]

More fun with Facebook pronouns

Class discussion of the Facebook pronoun data brought out some interesting points. We started by looking at the relationship between first-person singular pronouns ("I", "me", "my", "mine") and first-person plural pronouns ("we", "us", "our", "ours") as a function of the age of the poster. Show More Summary

Commas (and parsing) are important

[h/t to Omri Ceren] More of the same: "'My parents, Ayn Rand and God'", 3/16/2006 "Merle Haggard's ex-wives", 10/24/2010 "Visual aid for the final serial comma", 9/18/2011 "The Oxford Comma is your friend", 12/10/2013

Biomedical nerdview

My new hobby, as Randall Monroe sometimes says, is asking biomedical researchers what "sensitivity" and "specificity" mean. The modal response is "Um, yes, I always have to look those up". But recently, preparing a homework assignment about the evaluation of binary classifiers, I had a flash of insight. My new insight answers one of the questions […]

Only 7% of people in China speak proper Putonghua: PRC MOE

[This is a guest post by Mark Swofford.  N.B.:  P?t?nghuà ??? = Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM); PRC = People's Republic of China; MOE = Ministry of Education] In the South China Morning Post this week: "One-third of Chinese do not speak Putonghua, says Education Ministry". I tracked down the Ministry of Education's release. It's here. […]

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