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Ask Language Log: -ism exceptionalism

Jonah Goldberg, "The Trouble with Nationalism", National Review 2/7/20 But I firmly believe that when we call the sacrifices of American patriots no different from the sacrifices of Spartans — ancient or modern — we are giving short shrift to the glory, majesty, and uniqueness of American patriotism and the American experiment. I’m reminded of […]

Ask Language Log: Turnbull, Trumble, ?

Graeme Orr asks: This relates to US-Australian relations, thrown into mirth if not disarray by a now infamous phone call. Afterwards, Mr Spicer mistook our PM's surname twice in a press conference. Australian social media heard Spicer as calling our PM Turnbull 'Trumble'. But I distinctly hear it as 'Trunbull', a simple transposition error of […]

Why learn Cantonese and one way to do it

Anne Henochowicz, who for years was a mainstay at China Digital Times, and whom I have often cited on Language Log, has decided to branch out from Mandarin and tackle another important Sinitic language, Cantonese. Check out her new blog:  "I'm Learning Cantonese:  Teaching Myself a Second Chinese Language". If you've ever had an inclination […]

The SISSILY countries

Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen. We're going to need an acronym, in case we forget which are the seven countries on the blacklist. And Language Log is here for you: we have prepared one. Somalia-Iran-Sudan-Syria-Iraq-Libya-Yemen: SISSILY. We can refer to them as the SISSILY countries. And to convince you of the threat they […]

"Do I not like that"

Graham Taylor has died at the age of 72, after a long and varied career as a manager and coach of English football teams. But this is Language Log, not English Football Log, and so we'll leave the obsequies to others and focus on Mr. Taylor's best known quotation, "Do I not like that": Your […]

Two "crash blossom" headlines

2 months agoHumor / odd : TYWKIWDBI

These examples via the Funny subreddit and The Express.Previous examples here and here.And a compilation here.The term was originally created at Language Log.

An Interview with Sarah Thomason.

Sally Thomason (who occasionally posts at Language Log) is a wonderful linguist I’ve written about here more than once; last March Ryan Bradley interviewed her for the Paris Review, and it’s very much worth reading. An excerpt: Are there languages that are better at adapting? When languages meet, does one “win”? Sure. But that comparison […]

Mystery script in a library book

We received the following intriguing note at Language Log Plaza: Hey there, my name's Dan and I work at the Calistoga library. I found this little note in a book that was returned and I'm curious what script it's in. At first I thought it was in Cherokee, but then looked closely and saw it […]

Ask Language Log: Obsolete expressions

From a reader: I just noticed this headline in our local news (which I read on line…): "Seahawks QB Russell Wilson pens letter on behalf of Sonics arena project." Does anyone pen a letter these days, or dial a phone number?  I am sure this raises issues that have come up in your blog. Maybe […]

My first post on Language Log

As hinted yesterday, I have joined the Language Log juggernaut (thanks to Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum for recruiting me). Here’s my first post: Justice Breyer, Professor Austin, and the Meaning of ‘Any’.

Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing. All too often, people think that the Chinese characters (hànzì ??) are the Chinese language.  Right away that brings […]


From Jenny Chu, on November 9: I am a long-time follower of Language Log but usually comment on the Chinese and Vietnamese related topics by Prof. Mair. Yet I thought you might be amused by the attached conversation. It shows some nice examples of the playfulness and creativity of the human language faculty, as well […]

"Arrival" arrives

"Arrival" hits the theaters this weekend, and I'd heartily recommend it to all Language Log readers. The film, despite its science-fiction trappings, does a remarkably good job of depicting how a linguist goes about her work. I've posted about the movie a few times before even seeing it, based on the trailers: "'Language is messy,' […]

The silence of Language Log

Our much-valued readers will all be wondering why Language Log has so far said nothing about the result of the US presidential election. That is an understandable question. Most of the newspapers seem to have managed to get out editions for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; but not us. The answer is that we are in […]

Ask Language Log: "But long or short, but here or there"

From Chris Cooper: I was intrigued by this construction, which I'd never come across before. From the explanation of the German word "Bummel" in Jerome K Jerome's comic novel Three Men On The Bummel: A 'Bummel', I explained, I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being […]

Ask Language Log: "Finna"

From P.S.: Today I was reading a story in the Washington Post (online) about a response to “The Passive Aggressive Neighbor & His Wife”.  It starts: “Re: I’m Finna Tell You What you Not Gon’ Do”  . I am not sufficiently familiar with what I assume is AAVE and the expression "Finna". I was wondering […]

The making of a cinematic linguist's office

Ever since the first trailer for the upcoming science-fiction movie "Arrival" came out back in August, we here at Language Log Plaza have been anxiously awaiting more glimpses of Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called upon to communicate with aliens after they arrive on Earth. The final trailer of the film has […]

Trump's vulgarities rendered into Chinese

Judging from these recent Language Log posts and the comments thereto, it is not always easy for native speakers of English to understand what Donald Trump says, especially when he is making lewd remarks: "A non-apology for the ages" (10/7/16) "'Like a bitch'?" (10/8/16) "Trump translated" (9/31/16) "Trump's aphasia" (9/5/15) There have been many other […]

Asleep at the wheel at Zombie Lingua?

[This post is co-authored by Eric Bakovic and me, cross-posted from Language Log.] We have been following an ongoing story involving Zombie Lingua with great interest. For those unaware of it, and perhaps for those with only some awareness...Show More Summary

Sex, lies, and childishness; and insomnia

It's a bit early for Language Log to do any analysis of the presidential debate last night. Where I live, it came on after 2 a.m., and where Mark lives it is still only 6 a.m. right now. But Vox has already analysed the interruption rate, a well-known index of gender in speech style. Trump interrupted […]

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