Topic : Linguistics
In his new book, What Language Is, the linguist John McWhorter takes the reader on a guided tour of language as it really is, not how we might assume it to be. One of his keys to understanding language the way a linguist does is to appreciate that it is inherently messy, or "disheveled," as he puts it. In this excerpt, McWhorter uses the history of English as his example of just how disheveled language can be. Continue reading...
Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
July 28, 2011By Ben Zimmer
In the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, I took a look at how forensic linguists try to determine the author of an e-mail by picking up on subtle clues of style and grammar. This is very much in the news, thanks to a lawsuit filed against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by one Paul Ceglia, who claims that Zuckerberg promised him half of Facebook's holdings, as proven by e-mail exchanges he says they had. Did Zuckerberg actually write the e-mails? Call the language detectives. Continue reading...
Grammatical Diversity in American English
July 27, 2011
A fascinating new site has been launched by linguists at Yale University: "Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America." The site documents "the subtle, but systematic, differences in the syntax of English varieties." If you want to know where people say "The car needs washed" or "I might could go," check out the site here.
June 28, 2011
On the linguistics blog Language Log, Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania has "a terrible idea that could probably make someone a modest fortune." What if you could combine "a speech recognizer with a style checker" to create "an app for your smartphone that will make it vibrate (or beep, or flash) whenever you indulge in any of the verbal tics that you've asked it to watch out for"? Read Liberman's reluctant proposal here.
The Remarkable History of "Y'all"
April 11, 2011
Ben Trawick-Smith is an actor with a deep interest in English dialects. On his Dialect Blog, he takes on a range of interesting linguistic issues. One recent post traces the history of the pronoun y'all: "One word. Two continents. Three shores. Four centuries. Five separate dialects. Wow." Read the fascinating story here.
The Birth of a Word
March 14, 2011
Wouldn't it be amazing if you could capture every moment of a child's language development? Deb Roy, a researcher at MIT, managed to do just that with his infant son. After wiring his house with video cameras, he then analyzed "the world's largest home video collection" to show how a bit of babble became a word. See Roy's TED talk here.
International Mother Language Day
February 21, 2011
Today is the 11th annual commemoration of International Mother Language Day. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) asks the world community to celebrate linguistic diversity and the promotion of mother tongues. Read more from the United Nations here, and check out the LingEducator blog for ideas about classroom activities.