Whorfianism — the idea that language shapes thought, and each language creates a distinct worldview — is an appealing idea. But there's one problem: Whorfianism, at least dogmatic Whorfianism, is a huge load of bunk, at least according to John McWhorter's new book The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language.  Continue reading...
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Now that we're in the brave new world of the 21st century, there may be a challenger to the monopoly that human languages enjoy in complex and fully functional grammars, and the challenge may come from robots. There is no need for alarm, but if the hunch of robotic researchers is confirmed, it's possible that in due course, a natural grammar will emerge from the robots' linguistic interactions.  Continue reading...
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Years ago, when the furniture in the Language Lounge was still spick-and-span, I wrote a column about reduplication. Not a day has passed since then that I did not use, hear, and delight in one or more reduplicative words; they constitute a reliable source of infotainment in English, and no speaker's lexicon can or should be without a ready supply.  Continue reading...
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In What is English? And Why Should We Care?, Tim William Machan looks at the nooks, crannies, accents, dialects, words, and other details that have made English English over the centuries. After reading this book, you'll agree that "English serves as the password to a kind of cross-cultural, transhistorical club that one might or might not want to join."  Continue reading...
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How speakers introduce additions to the language that then gain circulation is difficult to document: even today in the Internet age, tracing the origins of linguistic innovation is a sleuth's game and it's a subject that intrigues linguists. Now researchers are trying to bring more light to the process by which people create, learn and use new words.  Continue reading...
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"Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling was recently revealed to have written a crime novel, "The Cuckoo's Calling," using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. How she was found out involved a couple of linguistic experts analyzing the "little words" that are used in the novel's text.  Continue reading...
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A news story that flitted across the headlines earlier this year reported on a study called "The Geography of Happiness," in which researchers in Vermont subjected 10 million geotagged tweets to sentiment analysis. Their object was to arrive at a metric for the relative happiness of people in a place. "The Geography of Happiness" breaks new ground in the analysis of digital-age linguistic data, while also raising interesting questions about the limits of obtaining reliable results from algorithm-driven research on big bags of words.  Continue reading...
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