Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:5122
Posts / Week:9.7
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

SOTU interpolations

In "Text-as-data journalism? Highlights from a decade of SOTU speech coverage" (Online Journalism Blog 2/5/2018), Barbara Maseda surveys some of the ways that "media has used text-as-data to cover State of the Union addresses over the last decade". When Erica Hendry asked me for thoughts about features of Donald Trump's style in last week's SOTU, the […]

Tones for real

For several years, John McWhorter has been studying Mandarin very seriously.  He and I have, from time to time, corresponded about the best, most effective, most efficient way to do that.  After years of assiduous learning, it seems that he has recently experienced a kind of satori about one of the most challenging aspects of […]

Sports chants

There was a big city-wide party last night here in Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia Orchestra, got on board back in early December: Since this is Language Log and not Out-of-Control Civic Exhilaration Log, I want to focus on the prosody of the Eagles chant at the end: Your browser does not support the audio element. […]

Alexa disguises her name?

"Alexa Loses Her Voice" won USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter: I believe that this was also the first Super Bowl ad to raise a technical question about speech technology. Brad Stone, "Here’s Why Alexa Won’t Light Up During Amazon Super Bowl Ad", Bloomberg 2/2/2018: Inc. is advertising its Alexa-powered speakers in the big […]

Don't blame Google Translate

Douglas Hofstadter has a critical article in the latest issue of The Atlantic (1/30/18): "The Shallowness of Google Translate:  The program uses state-of-the-art AI techniques, but simple tests show that it's a long way from real understanding." (1/30/18). Hofstadter criticizes GT for not being as good as himself at translating from French, German, and Chinese […]

"Wait, wait, don't orca me"

Yesterday's edition of the comedy radio news quiz "Wait, wait, don't tell me" featured some discussion of the Talking Orcas story that Geoff Pullum discussed a few days ago in "Orca emits speech-like sound; reporters go insane", 1/31/2018. The whole discussion is worth a listen: Your browser does not support the audio element. Peter Sagal's […]

Tangut workshop at Yale

On the weekend of January 19-20, 2018, there was a Tangut Workshop at Yale University.  Organized by Valerie Hansen and sponsored by the Yale Council of East Asian Studies, this was an intense, exciting learning experience for the 35 or so people who were in the room most of the time. Many readers may be scratching their heads […]

Wait, what?

At some point in the recent past, after a few long and fuzzy quasi-days checking annotations for the DIHARD challenge, I found myself dozing off while re-reading a random e-book that turned out to be Charles Stross's Halting State, and was caught short by this sentence: They call this place the Athens of the North […]

Kulchur wars: Literary Sinitic YES; Hip hop NO

The following article by Xiong Bingqi appeared in today's (2/1/18) China Daily, China's leading English language newspaper:  "Ancient texts not a burden on students".  Here are the first two paragraphs of the article: The newly revised senior high school curriculum includes more ancient Chinese poems and prose for recitation, sparking a public discussion on whether […]

Orca emits speech-like sound; reporters go insane

Published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B you will find (provided you have the necessary institutional credentials or library membership) a paper entitled "Imitation of novel conspecific and human speech sounds in the killer whale (Orcinus orca), by José Z. Show More Summary


One of the most widely noted aspects of last night's SOTU address was the president's pronunciation of "Obamacare" as if it were spelled "Opamacare": Your browser does not support the audio element. Anyone can hear this emphatic voiceless plosive pronunciation of the /b/, but let's look at the numbers. Here's a spectrogram and waveform of […]

"I don't think there isn't a darn thing I can do"

RichG sent in a link to Matt Pierce and David Montero, "Warrants in Las Vegas mass shooting reveal name of additional 'person of interest", LA Times 1/30/2018 [emphasis added]: Authorities were looking into an additional "person of interest" following the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others, according […]

Learning not to avoid

Joanna Klein, "Swatting at Mosquitoes May Help You Avoid Bites, Even if you Miss", NYT 1/25/2018: If you keep swatting at a mosquito, will it leave you alone? Some scientists think so. But it depends. Some blood meals are worth a mosquito risking its life. But if there’s a more attractive or accepting alternative to […]

"Voiceprint" springs eternal

John R. Quain, "Alexa, What Happened to My Car?", NYT 1/25/2018 [emphasis added]: And even though voice bots like Alexa and Google’s Assistant can be taught to recognize different voices — well enough to cater to each family member’s favored Pandora stations, for example — they do not offer any sort of biometric security, such […]

A productive-ass suffix

Currently making the rounds is a video from Conan showing a standup appearance by the Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola. In his experience of learning English as a second language, he says, "I think the hardest word to truly master has been the word ass." He muses on the peculiar application of -ass as a slangy […]

Accentuate the negative

A curious case of a forced-choice sentence-completion question on a ninth-grade exam at a high school in Taiwan is briefly discussed on Lingua Franca today, for a very general non-linguist readership. It merits a slightly longer and more serious treatment, which I thought Language Log readers might appreciate. The exam question basically asks for a […]

Forcing Mandarin on Hong Kong

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by the Prime Ministers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United Kingdom (UK) governments on December 19, 1984, the way of life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years from the time of its handover to the PRC in 1997. […]

Global drop in GNP?

Is it my imagination, or has there been a drop in GNP (Gross National Peeving) across the Anglophone world? I'm not seeing nearly the volume of "Angry linguistic mobs with torches" that I (think I) did a decade ago. So the recently viral story about this sign on the door of the Continental bar makes […]

Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 4

Screenshot from Nikita Kuzmin's WeChat: The sentence ending in a smiley face, just above the huge broiled trotter (I think that's what it is) on a chair, reads thus: Shìwèn n?ge shào(chi)n?(huo) bù xi?ng y?ngy?u y? zh? zhèyàng de bàozh?n ne :-) ?????(chi)?(huo)????????????:-) "Let me ask, 'Which foodie girl would not want to have a pillow […]

What it is is what it is

Jay Livingston sends a compendium of tautologies from The Wire: Jay comments: They seem to have at least two different senses. The most obvious is the impossibility of change. "It is what it is,"  "What's done is done"  (and cannot be undone — there may be other similarities between The Wire and MacBeth).  But some […]

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