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Showing posts from December, 2014

Can you guess the correct language by geographical distribution?

There's a quiz game where you have to match languages to their geographic distribution. Needless to say, we all need to play it. It's fun, go go go :D!

Tell me your score and comments :)! I got 24/25, for some stupid reason I couldn't get no. 17.

Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou

Tis Christmas time, so let's watch Tom Scott's video on the phonology of Hawaiian and why "Merry Christmas" become "Mele Kalikimaka". After that, let's learn how to greet each other in upon this Christian/Western Holidays of Christmas and New Years in lots of other languages, courtesy of Omniglot of course.

Luxenbourgish: E schéine Chrëschtdag an e glécklecht neit Joer Ukranian: Різдвом Христовим Standard Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة Quechua: Sumaq kausay kachun Navidad qampaq Romani: Baxtalo Krećuno thaj Baxtalo Nevo Berš Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Many, many more languages here!
Från oss alla, till er alla: En Riktig God Jul!

Name evolved!

Really good radio show episode on nativeness of languages, go listen!

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The excellent radio/podcast show Talk the Talk just did an episode on nativeness of language that is really, really good. They've interviewed Dr Vyvyan Evans who just came out with a book about why language isn't an instinct and they ask really good questions and get really good answers.

I know I'm saying "really good" a lot, but that's just because I'm very excited and this is awesome. I'll calm down in a bit. In the meantime, enjoy this gif as a display of my excitement which cannot be expressed fully in words and go listen to the show!

"Just thinking"... #1: Complexity and Junk DNA

I have a lot of thoughts and ideas but I always like to fact-check and double check before I say anything. I thought I'd share some of the stranger ones with you for the sake of entertainment. These are not serious thoughts, just strange thoughts. This one is one of the strangest and might fit better in an edition of the Speculative Grammarian.

What can we learn by comparing mature/complex language features and junk DNA in biological organisms?

I.e. something entities that have been around for a long time acquire and have a hard time to get rid of. Mature features or frills in languages can be things that take a long time to evolve and sometimes bleaches down so much that it barely has any function anymore, except to mark group membership. Complex features is a umbrella term for lots of things, they're not necessarily the same.

I don't know a lot about Junk DNA/non-coding DNA, but I do know that you can get it from not deleting copies (bleaching..?) and retroviruses. Orga…

What should we call our app game about linguistic diversity?

Hello! Wanna help us find a name for a smartphone app game about linguistic diversity? I'm working with Seán Roberts (of MPI Nijmegen and the blog Replicated Typo), Mark Dingemanse (also of MPI Nijmegen but of the blog the Ideophone) and Peter Withers & Pashiera Barkhuysen at the Language in Interaction project (WP7) to create a game for smartphones that let's you compete in recognising and explore languages of the world. We need a name for this game and we'd like your help in figuring it out. Since cultural evolution and iterated learning is very cool, Seán's set up a very quick iterated learning game that you can play that will help us. Help us evolve an app name! The more that play the merrier!  It's a very simple game and takes very little time. As Seán says "We’ll throw some app names at you, you try to remember them, then we throw your names at someone else."

Listen to the world's languages! 2: Sinitic and other languages on Phonemica

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Following on from the preceding post on listening to the languages of the world by navigating audio samples on maps, here I will introduce Phonemica 乡音苑/ 鄉音苑, a website with user-contributed audio files of Sinitic (and some other nearby) languages, mapped by pins that are (supposedly) colour coded by linguistic affiliations. Even if you are not into Sinitic languages, it is fun to listen to, and familiarise yourself with, the various Sinitic languages. (You know, just in case, e.g., the next pub quiz asks you to distinguish the Cantonese vs. Mandarin vs. Taiwanese Mandarin versions of 'Let It Go'.)

3 x Conlangs!

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I've got three things on constructed languages for ya. Be it for fiction, peace or just plain fun - constructed language fascinate. They vary in thoroughness and devotion of fan community, we all have our favourite. My favourite is the same as that of my teacher Mikael Parkvall, i.e. Solrésol. Here's the wiki on Solrésol, Romeo and Juliet on Solresol and there is also a linguistic problem from the Swedish contest based on Solrésol but I can't find it right now.

For your enjoyment

A podcast on conlangs called "Conlangery". Even for non-conlangers I recommend trying their review of the classical book on gender by Corbett.World Atlas of Constructed Languages Structure - Conlang-WALSJohn McWhorthers TEDed-video on conlangs
Imma big fan of constructed languages that do not have any aim of being optimal and improve upon communication or the world, and preferably that isn't solely based on European assumptions and categories. Do you have any preferences or favourite…

Languages of Nerdfighteria - help me reach John and Hank!

I tried to figure out how many languages are spoken in the online community of Nerdfighteria once, and now I'd like to see if I can get a hold of John and Hank Green with your help. Wanna join?

How is this interesting to a non-nerdfighter reader of this blog? Well, this is a good example of young people's enthusiasm for language and by encouraging it we're making the world better and possibly also linguistics better - just like the Olympiads of Linguistics or all the tumblrs, blogs, youtube-channels etc on linguistics out there on the interwebs. We in academia need to connect with the surrounding world, and enthusiastic young people are a great place to start.

Imma nerdfighter, this means that I form a part of the community around the vlogbrothers, brainscoop,scishow, the Art Assignment, crashcourse and many other excellent youtube-channels. It's an interactive community formed by nerds interested in knowledge and the world in general - that's the brief and simple…

Talking to linguists - on podcast?

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Like I've said before, you know what I most often like better than reading grammars? Talking to speakers/signers and experts! You know, it's not a good idea to say "so, you're a linguists - what languages do you speak?", but at the same time linguists do speak and do research into a lot of languages and by collaborating we can make more effective use of our time investigating linguistic diversity. See my old posts here about "how many languages do linguists speak?".
These past two weeks I've been out on a little tour doing just that. I've been to several places in Germany: Hillerse, Berlin, Potdsam, Leipzig, Freiburg and then over to the UK to meet people at SOAS. These are some of the people I've met and had time to sit down with:

Ulrike Mosel - retired professor of the University of Kiel, renowned specialist on oceanic languages, especially Samoan, Teop & Tolai, and also originally an orientalist, as it was called then, with a specialt…

Listen and watch the world's languages!

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There is a site called Language Landscape where you can listen and see languages of the world by navigating audio samples on a map. They're currently offering 357 samples, both audio and video (because remember: sign language!!), go check it out and contribute your own! It's super awesome.
You remember sometime ago when Jeremy Collins wrote a post here in connection with a workshop on cross-lingusitic databases and wrote that he  would like to see data points tied to specific speakers and geographical coordinates, as one possible solution.
Well, guess what the Language Landscape does? Exactly that! I've just come back from SOAS in London where I met a certain Samantha Goodchild that works on Language Landscape and told me about the site. Such cool stuff, y'all go contribute, listen and watch now!

While you're at it you should also go to Paul Heggarty and Colin Renfrew's site Sound Comparisions where you can hear cognate sets from lots of languages. Cognate …

Linguistic diveristy, important things to think about concerning maps and hot research topics

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The tumblr The land of Maps recently reblogged a map from the 2004 edition of Ethnologue displaying the linguistic diversity of Africa. I thought I'd just add some brief commentary and information about the kind of research questions this touches upon. Now, Africa is super-diverse don't get me wrong, but this image does not show the full picture. I know Imma party pooper, I've accepted this about myself.

This map is based offa Ethnologue and displays each language of Africa as a polygon shape covering the area where the language is spoken. Ethnologue is a catalog of the worlds languages administrated by SIL. They're also the keepers of certain standards of languages, such as the ISO 639-3 codes for language names. The most recent edition, from 2014, does not feature maps of this kind. They do have maps of smaller areas though, like Nigeria which is one of the most diverse regions of Africa.

In order to see the diversity of Africa we can look at such maps as the one ab…

Registers and styles

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In Samoan (Oceanic, Austronesian) there are two styles: T-language or 'o le tautala lelei (the good language) and K-language or 'o le tautala leaga (the bad language). Styles refer to inter-language variation that is not dialectal (bound to geography), but rather changes depending on the factors such as formality and intimacy of the context.

 These two are quite interesting since they are marked by a switch of [t] to [k], [r] to [l] and [n] to [ŋ], among other markers. There is a PhD dissertation on this from 2001 (Mayer), in which we can find this quote that very clearly explains what "styles" are. I like it and I want to share it with you.

Because the Samoans almost always use K's instead o f T's, a few elders have been inclined to remark, "Why should we be so careful about using T’s? Why shouldn’t we speak the language the same as the Samoans do?’’ The most common reply is that anyone with a true love for languages will adhere to its pure form and avo…

Why should we care about languages that are dying?

Linguist John McWhorter wrote recently in the New York times on the topic of why should we care if 90% of languages that are alive today perish within a very short time span. Go read the article, it's a very good read.

I'll do a brief sum-up here and then present my own thoughts. The text is 911 words and I doubt that McWhorter has exhausted all his reflections on this topic, let's just keep that in mind. In this text he answers a frequently asked question "if indigenous people want to give up their ancestral language to join the modern world, why should we consider it a tragedy?". This is a common question face by linguists, and a very important one that should be addressed with great care and respect.

He dismisses the earlier linguistic-relativist argument he used to put forward, i.e. that each language represent a different world view and therefore another way for us as a collective human society of viewing the world.

Now, he rather puts forward two other argu…

Rejected language families

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There's a lot of different ideas on what languages are related and how. Some are well-received by most linguists, and others are very controversial. There's a wikipedia entry for all suggested language families that Glottolog has rejected.  (**EDIT I've seen some errors in there, I'm gonna improve it.)
There are three main sites if you're into historical linguistics: Ethnologue, MultiTree and Glottolog. Ethnologue is SILs big catalogue, MultiTree is Linguist Lists initiative to make lots of hypotheses of language history accessible and Glottolog is a huge database of bibliographical information by Harald Hammarström, Sebastian Nordhoff, Robert Forkel and Martin Haspelmath of the MPI Society.

Most often I prefer using Glottolog. Glottolog gives a reference for each point of the tree and classification, i.e. you can see which sources has been used to argue a particular relationship or grouping. Glottolog is more "splitting" than Ethnologue, i.e. more prone…

Pakistan National Linguistics Olympiad! Hurray!

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As some of you already know, I organise the national olympiad of linguistics in Sweden and am a board member of the international contest. Today I'd like to take the opportunity to celebrate the Pakistan National Linguistics Olympiad (PLO). A linguistic olympiad is a chance for students of secondary school to learn about the wonders of linguistics.   The Pakistani contest write the following on their site, very well-put!
Whether it’s telling a joke, naming a baby, using voice recognition software, or helping a relative who’s had a stroke, you’ll find the study of language reflected in almost everything you do.When you study linguistics at any level, you gain insight into one of the most fundamental parts of being human- the ability to communicate through language. You can study every aspect of language from functional theory to language acquisition to psycholinguistics. Studying linguistics enables you to understand how language works, how it is used and how it is developed and pre…

Navigating the world by language

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This is me in Leiden navigating the channels with an old world map. It's a Swedish map,  made by Docenten Friherren Sten De Geer in 1924. The upper section is the distribution of languages across the world and the lower religion. I'll make a longer post about this map and linguistics in the 20's later, for now I just wanted to share this image.

Linguistic relativism and data visualisation

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This is a sweet little story by a data visulator by the name of Muyueh Lee (李慕約). It's about comparing the entries in wikipedia for different color terms between Chinese and English. The link will take you to a site which will elegantly tell you a little story about the data and what he's found. 

He starts of with:

Language represents our view of the world, and knowing its limits helps us understand how our perception works. 

Now, this is true and very interesting. There are some problems with this study, but as a way of showing data visualisation and what one can do with freely available data online it's great. There is so much data out there that we can do interesting things with.

The story he tells is about color terms, and it just so happens to be one of the most well-reserach areas of lexical typology (systematic cross-linguistic comparison of words). It all started with Berlin and Kay's work on basic color categories, and then there's been lots of good and i…

More linguistics all the time yeah!

Apropos the previous post about a list of public outreach and crowdsourcing in linguistics, Gretchen McCulloch of AllThingsLinguistic reminded me of her compilation post of science communicators in linguistics. I really recommend it.
Then, as Jan Wohlgemuth of Linguisten also pointed out we should not forget enterprises like Glottopedia and others that deal with linguistic terminology. For more on resources of linguistic terminology you can go to this text here.
Now, soon it'll be time to start adding proper descriptions for all of these sources and posts. Some are news feeds from institutions like the MPI in Nijmegen or PARADISEC, others are funny tumblrs with serious topics mixed with humour, others are educational channels with carefully produced manuscripts. 
There's lots. I'm adding everything into one collaborative documents here. If you're keen, go jump in and tell us what you liked.

Want more linguistics in your life?

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Q:  Do you know of any other sites, blogs or similar where people can learn about linguistics and the diversity of the languages of our planet? A:
I know of loads, I try to keep track of them all but sometimes it becomes a tad bit overwhelming. I like lists, so I made a list. It's only of sources that are in English and I haven't written down  a description for each one (yet). If there's anything you think I should add, please add a comment, reblog on tumblr and tell me, or tell us here.

There's also this lists here of free online database of languages.

I used to be jealous of my partner who's in physics because they've got lots of online lectures etc that they can use to complement their education. We're not there yet, but there are more initiatives then one might think. It's awesome. Let's spread the word! Check some of these blogs and sites out and if you like it share it onwards. Because you know:

Natural Causes of Language by Enfield - New awesome free book with video introduction

N.J. Enfield of the Univeristy of Sydney and Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics has just written a book at the open access publisher Language Science Press. It's called "Natural causes of language: Frames, biases, and cultural transmission".

Whoop whoop, you can download it and read it right now and the author has made a video introduction. If you're stressed and think you can't deal with this right now, know that the book is 64 pages and the video is 2.21 minutes. It's well within you capabilities and it is very much worth it if you have any interested in language whatsoever.

The best part of the video is when he talks about the kinds of doubts that we have in linguistics, for example "that language is a real thing" and "that tree diagrams are useful representations of language history". Couldn't agree more.

This book is a part of a new series they're launching called "conceptual foundations of language science". I&#…