News

2021 Year in Review

2021 was in many ways a very meta year: most of my writing projects were reflections on the social functions of various other projects I was working on. But those other projects were very interesting both to do and to reflect on, such as coordinating LingComm21: the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, and redesigning the Lingthusiasm website. (Might they also reflect how under-socialized I got by a certain point in this pandemic? Hmmm.)

I was honoured to be the recipient of the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award from the Linguistic Society of America in 2021. I put up my acceptance speech as a blog post.

Media and crossovers

Media

Crash Course Linguistics

The final three videos of Crash Course Linguistics came out in 2021, although it was largely a 2020 project. Here’s the full list again so they’re all in once place, or you can watch them all at this playlist.

  1. What is linguistics?
  2. What is a word? Morphology
  3. Syntax 1: Morphosyntax
  4. Syntax 2:
  5. Semantics
  6. Pragmatics
  7. Sociolinguistics
  8. Phonetics 1: Consonants
  9. Phonetics 2: Vowels
  10. Phonology
  11. Psycholinguistics
  12. Language acquisition
  13. Language change and historical linguistics
  14. World Languages
  15. Computational Linguistics
  16. Writing Systems

Each video also comes with a few companion links and exercises from Mutual Intelligibility and a list of all of the languages mentioned in Crash Course Linguistics is here. It was great working with the large teams on that project!

Lingthusiasm

In our fifth year of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics which I make with Lauren Gawne and our production team, we did some general sprucing up, including a new cover photo (now featuring a jacketless Because Internet), a new portrait drawing, and a new website (for which I wrote a long meta process post here). We also did our first virtual liveshow (as part of LingFest), introduced new bouba/kiki and what the fricative merch, and sent patrons a Lingthusiastic Sticker Pack. Here are the main episodes that came out this year:

And here are this year’s bonus episodes:

Conferences and Talks (all virtual unless noted)

Conferences/events attended:

LingComm and LingFest

In April, I co-organized a pair of new events related to linguistics communication: LingComm21, the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, and LingFest, a fringe-festival-like program of online linguistics events aimed at a general audience, which contained a total of 12 events attended by a total of over 700 participants. One of those events was our first virtual Lingthusiasm liveshow: here’s a fun thread that I did about backchannels while we were getting ready for the show.

LingComm21 had just under 200 registrants, around 100 of which were formally part of the programming in some way. My opening remarks and closing remarks are here as blog posts, and see the #LingComm21 hashtag for highlights of what people noticed about the conference. We then wrote a 6-part blog post series on the conference as a case study in making online conferences more social, in hopes of helping other people who are interested in better virtual events. 

  1. Why virtual conferences are antisocial (but they don’t have to be)
  2. Designing online conferences for building community
  3. Scheduling online conferences for building community
  4. Hosting online conferences for building community
  5. Budgeting online conferences or events
  6. Planning accessible online conferences

Selected tweets

Books and more

Helpful threads

Linguistics fun

General fun

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I celebrated my ninth blogiversary on All Things Linguistic! Here are some of my favourite posts from this year:

Linguistics jobs

Linguistics fun

Languages

Meta and advice posts

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 2013201420152016201720182019, and 2020. If you’d like to get a much shorter monthly highlights newsletter via email, with all sorts of interesting internet linguistics news, you can sign up for that at gretchenmcc.substack.com.

November 2021: 5th anniversary of Lingthusiasm and a new website

It’s Lingthusiasm’s fifth anniversary! I’ve officially been making a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics with my cohost Lauren Gawne and our linguistically enthusiastic team for five years now!

In celebration, we redid the Lingthusiasm website to make it work better on mobile and so it would be easier for both new and recurring listeners to find things like where to start, transcripts, bonus episodes, and more. It looks so good now thanks to the tremendous behind-the-scenes efforts of Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation!) and the new icon art by Lucy Maddox!

I also wrote an incredibly long meta post about the website design process for Lingthusiasm, which…you probably already know if you’re the type of person who likes long meta posts about the implicit social functions of things in everyday life.

Podcasts have what’s often called a discoverability problem: it’s hard for prospective listeners who might like a particular podcast to know what’s out there.

I propose, however, that this problem is not unique to podcasts, and that we could understand the nature of this problem better by calling it opacity: the degree to which you’re able to try before you buy without committing a substantial chunk of time, money, or effort.

For example, books have a higher opacity than newspapers, despite both being text, because it’s easier to read through some news articles before buying a physical paper or online subscription. Books, even when you can leaf through the first few pages, are often designed to be a unified rather than a modular experience, so you don’t know before committing to it if the premise that seems intriguing on page 1 is going to pay off well a few chapters later. Even if you’re getting access to the book itself as a gift or a loan, the time that it takes to figure out whether you’re enjoying it is still rather daunting. 

How we made a better podcast website for Lingthusiasm

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Cool things about scales and implicature. The bonus episode was Linguistic 〰️✨ i l l u s i o n s ✨〰️ (like optical illusions but for language!). We also sent out the Lingthusiastic sticker packs in the mail!

Also, we put some Lingthusiasm transcripts into a neural net and apparently the robots think I do linguist standup now.

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This month’s image is from the website redesign: our artist Lucy Maddox did this exceedingly cute sketch of me and Lauren as the icon for our new “about” page!

Colored silhouette line art of Gretchen and Lauren from Lingthusiasm website redesign.

October 2021: Unicode Conference!

I finally went to some physical conferences again this month!

More specifically, I went to California for two conferences, Sotheby’s Level Up in Los Angeles and the Unicode Conference in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I did a keynote called “Taking Playfulness Seriously – When character sets are used in unexpected ways” (slides here!).

Here’s a meme-ish slide I made for my Unicode talk, about how tech tools need to work with and support users’ desires to be playful with language and symbols rather than pretending that people aren’t going to repurpose official tools for entertainment purposes, because ignoring this technological “desire path” just ends up creating a bad experience for users.

A park with two paths through it. The paved path is labelled "stop using our serious unicode characters for your fun games" and then there's a dirt path that clearly a lot of people have used instead.

If you want to watch the Unicode talk, it’s not online as itself, but a few days later I did a talk on the same topic for Bay Area NLP, for which the video is here.

I also gave a virtual talk for some internal folks at YouTube, which is not online.

It was so great to see and meet a different assortment of people from my usual this month! I also got to do fun things like drop in on Spectator Books Oakland, which I happened to be walking by when I was in California so I signed their copy of Because Internet! (I think this signed edition has already been claimed by now, but they said they’d get more copies in later if you happen to be in the area. And as ever, you can always order signed Because Internets via Argo Bookshop in Montreal, if having a signed copy makes you excited enough to want to pay for shipping.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Corpus linguistics and consent – Interview with Kat Gupta. The bonus episode was Lingwiki and linguistics on Wikipedia. We also saw a lot of people sign up for the limited-time Lingthusiastic sticker pack!

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This month’s image is from the Unicode Conference, which put U+1F637 (the Unicode encoding for the masked face) on its masks instead of like, a logo. I just. I’m so pleased about this. Plus my esoteric symbols scarf which everyone at Unicode did appreciate as much as I’d been hoping for, thank you.

September 2021: virtual university talks and a new portrait!

I did some back-to-school virtual university talks this month! I talked about The Internet is Making English Better at Yale with Claire Bowern and about Internet Linguistics and Memes as Internet Folklore with a student at the University of Oklahoma.

In fun internet crossover moments, Cecil Baldwin, host of Welcome to Night Vale (the podcast that got me into podcasts!), discovered the Welcome to Night Vale crossover in Because Internet, which he had evidently been reading!

Peeking face, palm up, and palm down – the emoji I proposed with Lauren Gawne and Jennifer Daniel are now officially in Unicode 14.0 and will be coming to your devices in the next few years!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was That’s the kind of episode it’s – clitics. The bonus episode was Q&A with Emily Gref from language museum Planet Word. We also debuted a time-limited Lingthusiastic Sticker Pack special offer for people who support the podcast on Patreon. Finally, Lauren and I commissioned a portrait of the two of us hanging out together as cohosts, since international travel restrictions mean we won’t be taking a photo together anytime soon.

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Here’s the portrait of me and Lauren again, I’m so pleased with how it turned out! We also got individual versions to use as social media avatars.

August 2021: Duolingo talk and Lingthusiasm on NPR

I did a talk about How Linguistics Can Help You Learn a Language for Duolingo! It was part of their annual public fan event, DuoCon, and my talk was alongside fancy people like Trevor Noah and Sohla El-Waylly (please note increasingly fancy fellow linguist Jessi Grieser, who gave a talk about language and belonging, which I also recommend). The talks were all put online after the live event and you can watch them all here (and mine is also embedded below!).

I also did a guest interview about internet language on That Word Chat, an online talk show for editors and word nerds, which you can see summarized in tweet form here.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Theory of Mind. The bonus episode was Sentient plants, proto-internet, and more lingfic about quirky communication. We also have a new cover photo! Lauren Gawne and I did a Lingthusiasm crossover appearance on the NPR show Ask Me Another, featuring two fun quiz segments, one on accepted or rejected emoji and one on famous book titles, if you’d like to hear us on the radio (also available for streaming online afterwards).

In behind the scenes news, I also now have an assistant! This won’t change much about the public-facing things, but it feels like a kind of professional level up to have someone helping on the email/logistics side part-time.

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This month’s image is our new Lingthusiasm cover photo, featuring Because Internet (in disguised, jacketless form) as well as a compilation of some Lingthusiasm merch from over the years!

Lingthusiasm merch: Mugs of tea, pastries, Lingthusiasm notebooks, and BECAUSE INTERNET surrounded by blue Lingthusiasm tree diagram and esoteric symbols scarves.

July 2021: fun facts and fricatives

I asked people for their favourite fun fact about linguistics and ended up with a delightful thread of replies! (Click through to read them.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was A Fun-Filled Fricative Field Trip (transcript), and the bonus episode was on language under the influence of alcohol and other substances. We also released new Lingthusiasm merch! You can now ask people which shape is kiki and which one is bouba from the comfort of your own scarf, tshirt, mug, and other items. And…did we do a whole episode on fricatives just so that we could release “what the fricative” merch? In the immortal sounds of another fricative: Shhhhhhh.

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This month’s image is a delightful miniature tea and book display from a tea shop in Montreal.

Wooden bookshelf with compartments for tea and shelves for books against orange wall.

June 2021: texting periods, LingComm21 meta posts, and finally a new bookshelf!

I’m quoted in a New York Times Wordplay piece about ending texts with a period. Now that Because Internet has been out for two years, I can attest that people have successfully used it as a way of opening up cross-generational conversations about changing texting norms.

Gretchen McCulloch, the Canadian linguist and author of “Because Internet,” dedicated an entire chapter of her book to “typographical tone of voice,” which explores not only periods and ellipses as signifiers of tone, but also TYPING IN ALL CAPS, which is seen as yelling; using *asterisks* and ~tildes~ for emphasis; the all lowercase “minimalist typography,” which can indicate a kind of deadpan, sarcastic monotone; and, of course, tYp1nG l1k3 th!z. (This is called “l33t [elite] speak,” and while it was once a sincere and popular way of spicing up texts, it is now employed almost exclusively in irony.)

No More Periods When Texting. Period.

For anyone else who’s been trying to figure out how to do virtual events that are actually social, the organizing committee of LingComm21 has written a six-part series on how we designed the conference:

  1. Why virtual conferences are antisocial (but they don’t have to be)
  2. Designing online conferences for building community
  3. Scheduling online conferences for building community
  4. Hosting online conferences for building community
  5. Budgeting online conferences or events
  6. Planning accessible online conferences

I was a contestant on Webster’s War of the Words, a virtual quiz show fundraiser for the Noah Webster House, and also attended two online conferences, the Dictionary Society of North America and the annual meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was an interview with Jade Abbott and Bonaventure Dossou from Masakhane, a grassroots initiative to make natural language processing tools in African languages, for Africans, by Africans. The bonus episode was about the linguistics of Pokemon names, looking at highly important Pokemonastics research like what makes a name sound cuddly or powerful. Also, Lingthusiasm now has a LinkedIn page, in case that’s a thing that’s been missing from your life. You’re welcome?

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This month’s image is, finally, inside a new bookshop again! This is from Librairie l’Alphabet in Rimouski, admittedly definitely a linguistics section that overlaps considerably with “reference” but containing a few French-language books I hadn’t seen before.

A bookshelf containing linguistics and reference books in French, including 337 Expressions Quebecoises, Le tu et le vous, and Une Histoire des Languages.

May 2021: 9th blogiversary and pfinally pfizer’d

I hit my 9th blogiversary on All Things Linguistic! Hard to believe I’m coming up on almost an entire decade of blogging now, but at any rate, here’s the traditional blogiversary post with highlights of the past year. It feels like I compensated for the isolation of the whole global pandemic situation this past year by working on a lot of projects with people through the internet, most notably Crash Course Linguistics and the LingComm21 conference, plus of course ongoing projects like Lingthusiasm episodes and Because Internet coming out in paperback.

In the aftermath of #LingComm21, we did a couple tours of the custom Gather space that we made for the conference. The tours are finished now, but if you want to see people’s screencaps of the parts of the space and the conference that they found memorable, you can check the photos tab of the #LingComm21 hashtag.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about negation (transcript) — or shall I say, it wasn’t NOT about negation — and the bonus episode was about “uh-huh”, nodding, thumbs up, and other kinds of backchannelling (the edited audio-only version of our liveshow last month).

Pfinally, some pfantastic inpformation:

(See the thread for further suggestions on how you can adapt your speaking style if you received a vaccine from a different manufacturer!)

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We finally started going out of lockdown here this month, so while I haven’t yet managed any new bookshop or travel photos, I did at least get to have a drink outside after the sun went down.

April 2021: #LingComm21, Lingthusiasm liveshow and #lingfest

We finally ran LingComm and LingFest, the events we’d been planning for the past few months!

LingComm21, the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, had just under 200 registrants, around 100 of which were formally part of the programming in some way. It was fantastic to get to see old friends and meet new people and find out more about so many great lingcomm projects. Thank you to everyone involved in the conference, especially the organizing committee and those who participated through panels, posters, volunteering, and organizing meetups. My opening remarks and closing remarks are here as blog posts, and see the #LingComm21 hashtag for highlights of what people noticed about the conference.

We did a liveshow for my podcast, Lingthusiasm! Here’s a fun thread that I did about backchannels while we were getting ready for the show. If you’ve now realized that you want to belatedly watch the liveshow, here’s the archive link (for patrons, as encouraging people to become patrons is what helps us keep the show running).

The Lingthusiasm liveshow was part of LingFest, a fringe-festival-like program of online linguistics events aimed at a general audience, which contained a total of 12 events attended by a total of over 700 participants. Thank you to everyone who both created and attended events!

I also moderated a panel for the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL) on NLP Applications for Crisis Management and Emergency Situations.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm this month was about R and R-like sounds (rhoticity), featuring A Thing About Eeyore that keeps blowing listeners’ minds, and the bonus was about talking to babies and small children.

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This month’s image is a group photo of attendees from the LingComm21 conference! So much fun to get to be in a group photo again for a change!

Tweet from @LingComm reading: Look at how many lingcommers there are! Group photo from #LingComm21, tag yourself! With screencap of about 50 videogame-style avatars from Gather around the word #LingComm21

March 2021: LingComm21 preparations and two video talks

This month was largely occupied in continued preparations for a pair of events in April:

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how linguists figure out the grammar of a language (transcript) and the bonus was about reduplication and a classic linguistics paper affectionately known as the salad-salad paper.

I did two video talks: at Planet Word, the new language museum in Washington DC, about internet language and Because Internet, and for Slate’s Future Tense about the meaning of emoji with Jennifer Daniel.

I collaborated on another video with Tom Scott, this one about the rhythms of poetry in different languages or Why Shakespeare Could Never Have Been French:

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This month’s photo, since I yet again didn’t go anywhere, is a throwback photo from ReadeBook, a bookshop in Adelaide, from when I was in Australia in 2018.

Reference section featuring linguistics books at ReadeBook in Adelaide, South Australia