At Aeon, Thom Scott-Phillips compares words and images, literature and visual art, to reveal their complementary nature in getting to the point....more
Posts Tagged: linguistics
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....more
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.
At JSTOR Daily, linguist Chi Luu looks at language loss in victims of trauma, specifically trauma in wartime. Luu’s case studies range from a monolingual teenaged prisoner isolated in Guantanamo Bay to POWs in Russia isolated from their native cultures and first languages for decades at a time....more
The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact, according to the experts that I spoke to, it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people….
For Guernica, Elisa Gabbert explores the incorporation of emoji into language and fiction. Gabbert also addresses the idea of diachronic translations, i.e. translating fiction from one historical era to another, and what place hyper-specific contemporary technology like emoji have in fiction....more
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....more
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….
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.
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.
Writing for Aeon, Elijah Millgram uses 1984 and George Orwell’s Newspeak/doublethink idea of language to examine why imperfect language, and expression that is sometimes inexact, contradictory, or misleading, can be better for developing the scope of human reasoning....more
At Aeon, John McWhorter explores the twists and turns through English’s linguistic history that brought us the “deeply peculiar” language structure used today....more
At JSTOR Daily, linguist Chi Luu makes a case for emphasizing grammar rules that follow popular usage, rather than the pedantic standards set by centuries-dead classicists.
Here are the plain facts: many of these pop grammar rules… were magically pulled out of thin air by a handful of 18th and 19th century prescriptive grammarians….
For wherever writing seems to achieve preeminence as a tool of the powerful, we find at that moment that it becomes possible to take it apart and turn it upon itself, a line of that same material quickened once more into a truth-making, universe-etching voice.
Sarcasm on the Internet—you know it when you see it. But how? Without the conversational aids of our best deadpan voices or our fingers as scare quotes, we use all sorts of tricks and mechanics. At The Toast, a linguist points out some of the ways in which we write out sarcasm on the Internet....more
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.
The exclamation point doesn’t mean what you think it does anymore. At The Huffington Post, Maddie Crum explores the punctuation mark’s changing and increasingly gendered usage: instead of conveying strong emotion, the mark now connotes levity, and apparently women are far more likely to use it than men....more
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.
Salon has published an excerpt from The Vulgar Tongue: Green’s History of Slang by lexicographer Jonathon Green. While ancient sex slang is sure to elicit a few giggles, Green also explores the deeper implications of our ability to dance around the issue:
The question, however, is not whether or what, but why.
In an excerpt from his upcoming book, linguist Dan Jurafsky analyzes the metaphors we use to describe different kinds of food. Turns out humans are pretty optimistic:
The Pollyanna effect has been confirmed in dozens of languages and cultures, and comes up in all sorts of nonlinguistic ways as well.
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.
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.
“When Nabokov started translating [his English-language memoir] into Russian, he recalled a lot of things that he did not remember when he was writing it in English, and so in essence it became a somewhat different book,” Pavlenko says.
At NPR’s health blog, Shots, Alan Yu explores the controversial linguistic idea that the language(s) we speak helps shape how we perceive the world....more
You’ve probably seen this regional-dialect quiz from the New York Times making the rounds on your social networks. You answer questions about your vocabulary and pronunciation, and it tries to determine where in the United States you’re from.
But the New Yorker‘s Shouts & Murmurs blog is really upping the ante with their own dialect quiz, which asks questions like “What do you call sweetened carbonated beverages?” Do you use “soda,” “pop,” or “Coke”?...more
Like it or not, the meanings and uses of words are constantly shifting, because language.
At the Atlantic, Megan Garber writes about how the word “because,” normally a subordinating conjunction, is increasingly being used as a preposition, with examples and possible linguistic explanations:
However it originated, though, the usage of “because-noun” (and of “because-adjective” and “because-gerund”) is one of those distinctly of-the-Internet, by-the-Internet movements of language.