March 26, 2014
When Did Group Pictures Become ‘Selfies?’

The answer has more to do with language than photography.
Read more. [Image: @theellenshow]

When Did Group Pictures Become ‘Selfies?’

The answer has more to do with language than photography.

Read more. [Image: @theellenshow]

March 25, 2014

The Geography of Small Talk: How Do You Say Hello?

December 24, 2013
You’re Saying It Wrong

In August, the outcry began. “Have we literally broken the English language?” asked The Guardian. The Web site io9 announced “literally the greatest lexicographical travesty of our time,” while The Week bemoaned “the most unforgivable thing dictionaries have ever done.” The offense? Google’s second definition of the word literally, which had been posted on Reddit: “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”
What the linguistic doomsayers failed to realize is that this definition is far from new. People have used literally to mean figuratively for centuries, and definitions to this effect have appeared in The Oxford English Dictionary and The Merriam-Webster Dictionary since the early 1900s, accompanied by a note that such usage might be “considered irregular” or “criticized as a misuse.” But literally is one of those words that, regardless of what’s in the dictionary—and sometimes because of it—continues to attract an especially snooty breed of linguistic scrutiny. It is a classic peeve.
Read more. [Image: Nishant Choksi]

You’re Saying It Wrong

In August, the outcry began. “Have we literally broken the English language?” asked The Guardian. The Web site io9 announced “literally the greatest lexicographical travesty of our time,” while The Week bemoaned “the most unforgivable thing dictionaries have ever done.” The offense? Google’s second definition of the word literally, which had been posted on Reddit: “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”

What the linguistic doomsayers failed to realize is that this definition is far from new. People have used literally to mean figuratively for centuries, and definitions to this effect have appeared in The Oxford English Dictionary and The Merriam-Webster Dictionary since the early 1900s, accompanied by a note that such usage might be “considered irregular” or “criticized as a misuse.” But literally is one of those words that, regardless of what’s in the dictionary—and sometimes because of it—continues to attract an especially snooty breed of linguistic scrutiny. It is a classic peeve.

Read more. [Image: Nishant Choksi]

December 17, 2013
"Some day I am going to do a piece for the magazine on how language is taught—especially to kids who go to the kind of schools I went to as a child. You can’t just conjugate all day and get quizzed on your colors. Some of this rote learning. Some of this is osmosis. To really get the language you have to not just learn the rules, but hear someone employ them constantly, break them constantly, and then you have to try to imitate. That is what immersion is supposed to be. But we hear that word so much in foreign language education that it’s basically more marketing than anything else."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, on language and reading Camus like a boss.

December 3, 2013
"

Perhaps we are now entering a new age wherein we will do violence to our language and Osama Bin Laden will no longer be a terrorist, but “a person who enjoyed a career killing innocent people.” Rush Limbaugh will not be a racist, but “a man who has made a career saying racist things.” Nathan Bedford Forrest will not have been a white supremacist but “someone who seemed to believe that things would be better if white people held most of the power in our society.” Louis Farrakhan will not be an anti-Semite but “someone who exhibits a pattern of making comments against people who identify themselves as Jewish.”

I am doubtful that such an age is dawning.

"

Ta-Nehisi Coates, on bigotry and the human language.

November 25, 2013

Soda vs. Pop vs. Coke: Mapping How Americans Talk

What’s your general term for a sweetened carbonated beverage? What word or words do you use to address a group of two or more people? What do you call it when the rain falls while the sun is shining?

Former Harvard professor Bert Vaux asked tens of thousands of people across the U.S. these questions and released the results as the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey. The data are fascinating; they reveal patterns of migration, unexpected linguistic kinships between regions, and the awesome variety of words we say and how we say them.

Read more.

November 22, 2013
Because Language

futurejournalismproject:

Via The Atlantic:

The word “because,” in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, “because” has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which “because” lends itself.

I mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.” 

FJP: And now we know.

10:40am
  
Filed under: Language Because 
November 19, 2013
English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet

Let’s start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism. 
The word “because,” in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, “because” has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which “because” lends itself.
I mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.”
You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the linguist Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.” 
Read more. [Image: Skreened.com]

English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet

Let’s start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism.

The word “because,” in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, “because” has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which “because” lends itself.

I mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the linguist Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.”

Read more. [Image: Skreened.com]

September 10, 2013
Can Your Language Influence Your Spending, Eating, and Smoking Habits?

Yes, I know. That headline. It looks like the most egregious form of causal inference. Americans don’t save money because of … our grammar? How utterly absurd. But bear with me.
In the 1930s, linguists proposed that the way we read, write, and talk helped to determine the way we see the world. Speakers of languages that had the same word for orange and yellow had a harder time actually distinguishing the colors. Speakers of the Kook Thaayorre language, which has no words for left and right, must orient themselves by north, south, east, and west at all time, which enhances their awareness of geographical and astronomical markers.
Last year, economist Keith Chen released a working paper (now published) suggesting speakers of languages without strong future tenses tended to be more responsible about planning for the future. Quick example. In English, we say “I will go to the play tomorrow.” That’s strong future tense. In Mandarin or Finnish, which have weaker future tenses, it might be more appropriate to say, “I go to the play tomorrow.” 
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

Can Your Language Influence Your Spending, Eating, and Smoking Habits?

Yes, I know. That headline. It looks like the most egregious form of causal inference. Americans don’t save money because of … our grammar? How utterly absurd. But bear with me.

In the 1930s, linguists proposed that the way we read, write, and talk helped to determine the way we see the world. Speakers of languages that had the same word for orange and yellow had a harder time actually distinguishing the colors. Speakers of the Kook Thaayorre language, which has no words for left and right, must orient themselves by north, south, east, and west at all time, which enhances their awareness of geographical and astronomical markers.

Last year, economist Keith Chen released a working paper (now published) suggesting speakers of languages without strong future tenses tended to be more responsible about planning for the future. Quick example. In English, we say “I will go to the play tomorrow.” That’s strong future tense. In Mandarin or Finnish, which have weaker future tenses, it might be more appropriate to say, “I go to the play tomorrow.”

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

12:55pm
  
Filed under: Money Spending Language Behavior 
August 28, 2013
The Rad New Words Added to the Dictionary in the ’90s: Where Are They Now?

Poking fun at new words added to various dictionaries is a time-honored journalistic tradition, nearly as well-loved as writing about nomenclature after the Social Security Administration’s annual release of the country’s most popular names.
And for good reason: Everyone uses words and everyone has a name. It doesn’t get more universal than the language we share. So, today, when the Oxford Dictionaries Online (not the OED) added bitcoin and hackerspace and emoji and TL;DR, everyone had some fun arguing about whether all the additions were appropriate. On one side are the traditionalists, who would prefer English remain the same as it’s always been, where “always” is defined as whenever that person was 23. On the other side are the people who are right. This is literally a never-ending debate, and yes I just used literally to mean figuratively and you still knew what I meant.
But, question! Many of the words entering our dictionaries have a distinctively technological flavor. They are things we use to describe our interactions with machines, or are used almost exclusively in mediated realms like Gchat. So, if our language is being partially forced to find new ways to say things because we can do new things with technology, and we know technology obsolesces, then are we naming actions and ideas that will only exist until the next upgrade comes out? 
Read more.

The Rad New Words Added to the Dictionary in the ’90s: Where Are They Now?

Poking fun at new words added to various dictionaries is a time-honored journalistic tradition, nearly as well-loved as writing about nomenclature after the Social Security Administration’s annual release of the country’s most popular names.

And for good reason: Everyone uses words and everyone has a name. It doesn’t get more universal than the language we share. So, today, when the Oxford Dictionaries Online (not the OED) added bitcoin and hackerspace and emoji and TL;DR, everyone had some fun arguing about whether all the additions were appropriate. On one side are the traditionalists, who would prefer English remain the same as it’s always been, where “always” is defined as whenever that person was 23. On the other side are the people who are right. This is literally a never-ending debate, and yes I just used literally to mean figuratively and you still knew what I meant.

But, question! Many of the words entering our dictionaries have a distinctively technological flavor. They are things we use to describe our interactions with machines, or are used almost exclusively in mediated realms like Gchat. So, if our language is being partially forced to find new ways to say things because we can do new things with technology, and we know technology obsolesces, then are we naming actions and ideas that will only exist until the next upgrade comes out?

Read more.

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