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

Selected blog posts

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.

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!

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

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.

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?

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

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!)

Media:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

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.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

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:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

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

February 2021: Announcing #LingComm21 and #lingfest

This month, I announced LingComm21, the first International Conference on Linguistics Communication, and LingFest, a fringe-festival-style coordination of independently organized public linguistics events, together with an excellent organizing committee consisting of Lauren Gawne, Jessi Grieser, Laura Bailey, and Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation!), both to take place in April 2021.

I wrote a thread about how we came to the idea of running a linguistics communication conference, plus a more official-looking announcement on LinguistList.

We reached our 100th episode of Lingthusiasm! This month’s main episode of Lingthusiasm was about imperatives (transcript) and the bonus was a Q&A episode featuring naming dogs, modifying English, keeping up with linguistics research outside academia, and more. (Also, the cutest IPA update.)

I attended the virtual AAAS conference, including making a virtual “hotel bar” in Gather to hang out with fellow attendees in.

I also may or may not have been in another xkcd comic, this time about the Tower of Babel. (I am choosing to consider it a representation of curly-haired linguists everywhere.)

Media:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s featured image is from xkcd. I have to say, I’m severely tempted to screencap that exultant curly-haired linguist as a new profile picture.

January 2021: Linguistics, Language and the Public Award, end of Crash Course Linguistics, and a cappella song about Because Internet

I started off the year as usual at the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, at which I was honoured to be the recipient of the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award. I put up my acceptance speech as a blog post (and also a reminder that I wrote a series on how to have a career sorta like mine). Although this year was virtual and Word of the Year had been in December, it was still great to see everyone in the unofficial Gather space that I made for the conference (thanks to everyone who helped brainstorm ideas for what to call a fantasy linguistics coffeeshop). Also thanks to Christian Brickhouse and Lauren Collister for running the annual Wikipedia editathon with me, which we also did in Gather and it worked well there.

The final Crash Course Linguistics videos and accompanying resource posts on Mutual Intelligibility came out!

There’s also now a directory of all of the Mutual Intelligibility posts, a whole year’s worth of compiled resources, which we put up to conclude the project. Many thanks to everyone who read and contributed to the project, especially our editor Liz McCullough.

The main Lingthusiasm episode this month was about how writing is a technology (a companion to the final Crash Course episode), and the bonus was our 100th episode total, a “director’s cut” of excellent deleted scenes from previous episodes that we’d had to cut for time. It’s also the one-year anniversary of launching the Lingthusiasm patron Discord, which has since become a place that’s lively and active but not too much to keep up with, in my opinion an ideal state for an online community.

Someone made a musical tiktok video asking why adults over 40 use ellipsis so much, a lot of people tagged me in it so I tweeted about it, and then the delightful A Capella Science made an extremely catchy response video, also in music, with the answer:

Media:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s image is a screencap from the A Cappella Science video about Because Internet, which I still utterly cannot get over. Amazing.

2020 Year in Review

Crossposted from my blog, All Things Linguistic.

2020 wasn’t the year anyone was expecting, and I did much less travel than in previous years. But, while I was social distancing at home like everyone else, I did at least keep doing enjoyable linguistics things: Crash Course Linguistics videos went from early planning stages to nearly complete, Because Internet came out in paperback, and my podcast Lingthusiasm launched two other projects to contribute to the pop linguistics ecosystem: LingComm Grants and Mutual Intelligibility.

Because Internet

Because Internet, my book about internet language which hit the NYT bestseller list last year, came out in paperback this year! Links to get it in all of the formats, including how to get signed copies.

Here are some photos of the new paperback edition, same bright yellow cover, now with 10x more nice quotes from people. I also wrote an old-school reflexive blog post about what it’s like to hit the final milestone in a book journey that began in 2014.

Crash Course Linguistics

I worked on these 16 fun intro linguistics videos, 10-12 minutes long each, along with a large team, including linguists Lauren Gawne and Jessi Grieser, host Taylor Behnke, the animation team at Thought Cafe, and of course the production team at Crash Course itself. Writing the scripts ended up being our first lockdown project in the spring, and then reviewing the filmed and animated episodes for accuracy a second lockdown project in the fall. The final few videos will be appearing in early 2021 — you can watch them all at this playlist.

Other Writing

Wired Resident Linguist column:

Language Files videos, with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl:

Lingthusiasm

My fourth year of producing a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics with Lauren Gawne! Regular episodes:

  1. Making machines learn language – Interview with Janelle Shane
  2. This time it gets tense – the grammar of time
  3. What makes a language easy? It’s a hard question
  4. The grammar of singular they – Interview with Kirby Conrod
  5. Schwa, the most versatile English vowel
  6. Tracing languages back before recorded history
  7. Hey, no problem, bye! The social dance of phatics
  8. The happy fun big adjective episode
  9. Who you are in high school, linguistically speaking – Interview with Shivonne Gates
  10. How translators approach a text
  11. Climbing the sonority mountain from A to P
  12. Small talk, big deal

And 12 bonus episodes, with thanks to our patrons for keeping the show sustainable:

  1. What might English be like in a couple hundred years?
  2. Generating a Lingthusiasm episode using a neural net
  3. Teaching linguistics to yourself and other people
  4. When letters have colours and time is a braid – The linguistics of synesthesia
  5. A myriad of numbers – Counting systems across languages
  6. Doing linguistics with kids
  7. Tones, drums, and whistles – linguistics and music
  8. LingComm on a budget (plus the Lingthusiasm origin story)
  9. The quick brown pangram jumps over the lazy dog
  10. The most esteemed honorifics episode
  11. Crash Course Linguistics behind the scenes with Jessi Grieser
  12. Q&A with lexicographer Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster

We started a Lingthusiasm Discord server, a place for people who are enthusiastic about linguistics to find each other and talk! And we released new schwa-themed merch with the (admittedly aspirational these days) slogan Never Stressed.

Lingthusiasm also sponsored two other projects this year: LingComm Grants and Mutual Intelligibility.

LingComm Grants – We gave out four $500 grants to up-and-coming linguistics communications projects. Thank you again to everyone who applied, and do check out the projects of the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants.

Mutual Intelligibility – A newsletter to connect linguistics instructors with existing linguistics resources suitable for teaching online in a bite-sized, easy-to-digest fashion, with considerable help from the editing and organizational skills of Liz McCullough.

Conferences

I did do a tiny bit of travel this year, my usual January trip to the Linguistics Society of America annual meeting (this year in New Orleans) and February trips to Comma Con (I gave a keynote about the future of language online), Social Science FooCamp, PanLex at Long Now, the Internet Archive offices (all San Fransisco Bay Area) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting (Seattle).

Virtual conferences and talks:

Media and internet crossovers

Selected media

Selected twitter threads

Books I enjoyed:

Helpful threads:

General fun:

Selected blog posts

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

Linguistics jobs and other advice:

Languages:

Linguist fun:

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 201320142015201620172018, and 2019. 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 2020: Proximity chat in Wired, bears in xkcd, vaccines in Jolene

I wrote an article for Wired this month summing up the results of my experiments in having more fluid conversational groupings (popularly known as “parties”) online.

The Zoom-birthday-party-slash-quiz-show is not terrible, and it is better than nothing—not to mention far better than hosting a Fun Party for Viral Particles in your friends’ respiratory tracts. But this birthday-board-meeting simply doesn’t feel like a party. (I’d hereby like to apologize to my friends who’ve hosted said Zoom gatherings. No really, please invite me back next year, it’s the medium that’s at fault!) One possible solution is to embrace the necessary structure of large Zoom events, and organize a more formal type of fun, like book clubs and game nights and powerpoint karaoke and show-and-tell events.

But, internet help me, I was still determined to have an actual virtual party. Which raises the question: If getting a bunch of people together on a video call doesn’t feel like a party, then what does?

A Mission to Make Virtual Parties *Actually* Fun

I also made a cameo in an xkcd comic. (Possibly twice, if you interpret this one as a subtweet.) I would like to thank everyone for their concern, but it is actually very comfortable here in the stomach of the Eldritch Spirit of the Brown One and I am getting some very interesting fieldwork done with this ursine speaker of Proto-Germanic so please do not be alarmed.

I late-night-wrote a parody version of “Jolene” but about vaccines (“Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaciiiiine / I’m begging you please go in my arm”) which someone made an excellent video recording of and then it got picked up by quite a lot of media outlets, including the BBC, New York Times (print), Associated Press, Boston Globe, and Fortune. (Youtube version, for posterity.) Still no word on whether Dolly Parton herself has seen it yet, which would be thoroughly incredible.

I did a virtual discussion event with Maria Dahvana Headley (translator of the new “bro” Beowulf edition) and Alena Smith (creator of the show Dickinson) about translation and the juxtaposition of historical texts with modern language styles. It was part of Predictive Text, a new series I’m doing with Slate’s Future Tense, and the archive video is online.

I also did a talk at the Australian Educational Podcasting Conference: From mythbusting to metaphors – Learning from cross-disciplinary research to communicate complex topics better. (Not recorded, but my slides are at the link.)

A few more Crash Course Linguistics episodes went up this month (we’re taking a few weeks off this month and next for assorted holidays this time of year).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how sonority shapes our sense of what a possible word is in various languages and the bonus episode was a behind-the-scenes episode about the making of Crash Course Linguistics with Jessi Grieser. It was also our anniversary month — we’ve now been making Lingthusiasm for four years! Thank you to everyone who’s helped spread the word about the show, both for our anniversary and in general. We know that parasocial relationships are especially important in isolation and it’s been an honour to be that for so many people this year.

I got sent a review copy of The Language Lover’s Puzzle Book, which is exactly the sort of book that I wish had been available to me as a 15 year old budding linguist and which I hope you get for language or puzzle fans in your life, of any age. Thread with some pictures and impressions.

I also read and greatly enjoyed the linguistic aspects of A Memory Called Empire, which includes poetic descriptions of fifteen syllable verbs and a very neat naming system loosely inspired by the Aztecs. More tweets to come when I eventually get my hands on a paper copy, read it now so you can follow along even better!

Media:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s image is, obviously, xkcd!Gretchen. Seriously, look at that hair, I’m so impressed!