Many verbs that entail some advanced cognitive capacity are commonly used in predicates for subjects that are not human. All speakers are comfortable with sentences like "Verizon revamps mobile plans and ends 2-year contracts & subsidies." Most speakers, however, reject sentences like "Microsoft is vividly imagining a purple square."  Continue reading...

Laughter is always good medicine, and today the Internet has put at our disposal the ability to draw it out through the combination in unexpected ways of two things that pervade modern culture: pictorial representation and vernacular language.  Continue reading...

I've just finished reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility—not for the first time, probably for the fourth or fifth time. I started reading her when I was a teenager and I try to re-read one of her novels every year. They never disappoint, and at each stage of my life, I find new facets to explore in her analysis of human nature and relations, and in her unparalleled mastery of the expressiveness of English.  Continue reading...

A popular song from early in the 20th century, covered many times since then, was Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine. The song came to my mind last month, when I returned to the East Coast to attend an annual party that I had missed two years running. All the old familiar faces were there, but with a twist: three of the party's couples, previously "partnered," are now married.  Continue reading...

Presidents, more than any other individuals, symbolize the values and ethos of the United States. Their words, whether proclamation or prattle, have been better preserved than the words of many who surrounded them, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the ways in which presidents through the centuries have expressed their ideas about religion in speech and writing.  Continue reading...

Imagine yourself among the travelers to North America 500 or more years ago, arriving initially by ship as the earliest European explorers did, but equipped with the trained sensibility of a modern linguist.  Continue reading...

I would like to consider myself among the modern vanguard, letting language take its natural course and evolve as its owners — that is to say, its speakers — allow it to. But at the same time, I spend hours every week at the rock face of language change — that is to say, in classrooms full of young people — and while there, I cannot but lament the passing of some niceties of English.  Continue reading...

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