Posts Tagged: linguistics

Women Shouldn’t Stop Saying ‘Sorry’

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At The Establishment, Amelia Shroyer pushes back against the idea that women must self-police their language in order to sound more ‘professional’ (read: like men):

Society has always valued the words of men more than those of women, to the point that men have been credited for discoveries or milestones actually reached by women, and that women have published their work under male pseudonyms just so people would engage with it.

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The Person to Whom Things Happen

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The question of what posture to take toward our own pain is unexpectedly complicated. How do we understand our own suffering—with what words and to what ends?

For the New York Times Magazine, Parul Sehgal questions the terminology we use when talking about sexual assault: from “victim” to “survivor,” either term a kind of interpellation unto itself, possibly infringing on personhood—and all the facets “person” might mean.

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The Sound of White Flight

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Over at Catapult, Kashana Cauley explores the origins of the Midwestern accent and discovers its roots in racial segregation:

Apparently it wasn’t enough for GLVS [Great Lakes Vowel Shift] speakers to move very far away from minorities in order to avoid us: They desperately needed to adopt a nasal accent to make sure they didn’t resemble us in any way.

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Examining the Dictionary for Sexism

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We need to know that the dictionary, as an institution, has a cultural power beyond the sum of its parts…And that does carry with it a responsibility to realize that we exist within that tension, and to not always hide behind the idea of descriptivist lexicography

Over at the New Yorker, Nora Caplan-Bricker compiles stories of problematic dictionary definitions and ultimately calls for dictionaries to reexamine their construction and eliminate sexist definitions.

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The Art of Inventing Language

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Chi Luu writes for JSTOR Daily on the popularity of invented languages, ranging from the mystical language created by a 12th century abbess to contemporary constructed languages such as Esperanto and Klingon.

Invented languages found in literature are really examples of linguistic artistry, language for art’s sake, not necessarily for real world utility or universality….

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It’s Literally Fine

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At the Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance defends teenagers’ ever-maligned contributions to the lexicon, citing a recent student that examines the extent to which teens influence linguistic change:

And the thing about linguistic changes is they can’t exactly be stopped in any sort of deliberate way…Even old-school grammar geeks are warming up to “they” as an acceptable gender-neutral pronoun, understanding that culture doesn’t just trump language rules, it creates them—then destroys them, then creates new ones again.

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The Making of the OED

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The Oxford English Dictionary, the first comprehensive catalog of the English language, took seventy years to compile. Volunteers aided the project, and one of the biggest contributors happened to be a murderer who lived in an insane asylum:

Through the years, the OED’s editor had enlisted hundreds of volunteers around the English-speaking world, and probably took for granted that a mysterious stranger was happy to cite word usage for him all day, because he was editing the most ambitious lexicographical project in the English language to date.

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Crafting a Metaphor

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One thing you learn very quickly as a metaphor designer is that your language and your culture’s resources aren’t infinite. Nor are they as versatile as you might hope. The richness of the semantic resources that a designer can muster always encounter friction from the human brain’s built-in biases and preferences, as well as cultural defaults that block certain kinds of understandings.

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Grammar As You Like It

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Everybody has that one friend who insists they know good grammar. They’re probably wrong—Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker insists strict rules just don’t matter because language is fluid. Mother Jones explains the grammatically anti-authoritarian position:

…language is never set in stone; rather, it is a tool that is constantly evolving and changing, continually adding new words and undoing old rules and assumptions.

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Sharing Our Words

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Writers often overuse a few unique words, creating a linguistic fingerprint. Vocabulary words are also exchanged between social groups. Some people contribute new words, while others adopt them. The process is not entirely random, though:

Diana Boxer, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in sociolinguistics, says that when we find ourselves in a situation where someone uses language differently than we do, or words we’re unfamiliar with, we usually respond in one of two ways.

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Creating New Words

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The act of creating new words helps make language more precise. George Orwell once proposed a ministry responsible for inventing new words for precisely that reason, explains  The Airship Daily. However, the shortcomings of language and the new words created for precision is the reliance on interpretation:

However, coining new words won’t change the fact that these spirits, these significant chunks of human existence, remain trapped inside our skulls, inaccessible fully to anyone but ourselves.

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