March 2020: Mutual Intelligibility project for online linguistics teaching resources

The large print edition of Because Internet is now a thing that exists, in case you need to explain how we talk online these days to a person in your life who likes large print and hasn’t already gone for the resizable-text ebook.

If you’re in the Montreal area, I’d appreciate people’s support these days for my local indie bookstore, Argo Bookshop, which did the book launch party and signed copies of Because Internet, and are now facing the loss of foot traffic like all small, “non-essential” business. Argo takes orders online (now including gift certificates and local delivery!) and everyone who goes to their events would really like to see them still be there after this!

A lot of linguistics professors started scrambling to move their courses online this month, so I revised and updated my post with a very long list of linguistics youtube channels and other free online videos about linguistics, and did a couple threads answering questions about further resources that people were looking for.

The popularity of our existing linguistics resource roundups led Lauren Gawne and I to launch Mutual Intelligibility, a project to connect linguistics instructors with existing linguistics resources suitable for teaching online in a bite-sized, easy-to-digest fashion. (Also potentially of interest to linguistics fans who want a distraction from the news cycle.)

We’re putting up thrice-weekly Mutual Intelligibility newsletters for the next while: on Mondays and Wednesdays short “3 Links” posts on a particular topic, and also on Fridays six longer Resource Guides diving deep into topics with a whole bunch of resources. We’re fortunate to have Kate Whitcomb and Liz McCullough (different spelling, no relation) along to help us make them. Thanks to everyone who has sent in queries and suggestions!

Read our first Mutual Intelligibility newsletter here, check out the archive so far, and put your email here to get future themed linguistics resource updates.

Because Lauren Gawne is essentially my partner in all forms of business, we also spent a substantial amount of time this month working on scripts for Crash Course Linguistics, along with Jessi Grieser and the Crash Course team. (Nothing official to report yet but stay tuned!)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the tricky question of what makes a language “easy” (Spoiler: it’s not that straightforward).

The Lingthusiasm bonus episode was about teaching linguistics to yourself and other people — how to articulate what you find so cool about linguistics (and other complex topics you may find yourself needing to explain). We also experimented with doing live listen-alongs of new Lingthusiasm episodes on Discord, and made a Lingthusiasm Turing Test, where you can see how well you can identify which Lingthusiasm quotes are real and which robo-generated.

Lauren and I also announced that we’re giving out a second LingComm Grant, thanks to the support of Claire Bowern’s NSF grant. If you’re a linguist with a linguistics communication idea that could use a $500 boost to make it, you can apply at lingcomm.org by June 1. (Also a reminder that there are no conditions on how the grant money is used, so if you need it to take care of some living costs so that you can allocate your time to a project, that is totally fine with us!)

This month’s media hits:

National Print/Top Online: 

  • Kottke.orgfeature “Weird Internet Careers”– 3/9
  • Financial Times mention 3/15
  • CNBC’s Make Itfeature “How not to sound like a jerk (and communicate effectively) over Slack and email, according to a linguistics expert”– 3/18
  • Mel Magazine – feature “WILL CORONAVIRUS FINALLY END THE SCOURGE OF ‘I HOPE THIS EMAIL FINDS YOU WELL’? ”– 3/26
  • The Guardian Solitary refinement: a lockdown survival guide – mention 3/27
  • HerCampus.com – roundup “3 Books To Read While Stuck At Home” – 3/30

Newsletters:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

Obviously I didn’t go anywhere this month, so this picture is of an emoji-Escher-esque exhibit in the Burke Museum of Natural History from last month in Seattle, which I went to for a science journalist “Night Out at the Museum” event at the AAAS.

emoji ish symbols escher burke museum seattle aaas

February 2020: Comma-Con keynote, SocSci FooCamp, #AAASmtg, and visiting PanLex and the Internet Archive

In February, I did a bunch of travel. First, I went to the Bay Area for Social Science FooCamp, where I gave a lightning talk about how the internet is changing language, and for Comma-Con, Facebook’s internal conference for their writing team, where I gave a keynote about the future of language online.

While in SF, I also paid visits to the Wired mothership office, to PanLex at Long Now (where I got to see one of the original Rosetta Project disks), and to the Internet Archive’s headquarters (where I took a short video of this art installation of the first full crawl of the web, 1997).

I then went to Seattle for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting. Highlights: a short talk about emoji, gesture, and internet linguistics, a thread from a SciComm workshop, the Language Science for Everyone booth, and meeting a bunch of people who have a similar sort of weird internet/scicomm job as I do but in different fields.

Looks like there won’t be much travel in anyone’s cards for the upcoming months, so I’m glad I got to see so many friends and meet new interesting people while it was still a thing.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about time and tense in languages. I also did a lingcomm thread about how we approached the topic.

The bonus episode is a robo-generated version of Lingthusiasm, where we asked last month’s guest Janelle Shane to help us use a neural net to generate a new Lingthusiasm episodes based on the transcripts of our ~70 existing episodes, and then we performed the best snippets. Accuracy: low. Hilarity: high.

The Lingthusiasm Patron Discord server is also still going strong, and people have requested a linguistics basics book club channel, to read through an open access linguistics textbook supportively together. I did a thread about how this solves a big lingcomm problem I’ve been working on for years.

A new collab video with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the sentences humans can understand but computers can’t.

This month’s media list:

  • Tor.com– roundup “Jo Walton’s Reading List: January 2020”– 2/5
  • Medium – CommunicationHealth Bookclub –2/13
  • The Atlantic —feature “Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults”– 2/19
  • Thrive Global—mention—2/21
  • Beachcomber– roundup “recommended reading”– 2/6

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s image is the Rosetta Disk from when I visited PanLex, with a bonus sunset in the background.

rosetta disk panlex sunset

2019 Year in Review

Cross-posted from my blog, All Things Linguistic

2019 was a very big year for me.

My book about internet language, which I’d been working on since 2014, finally came out into the world! Because Internet hit the New York Times bestseller list and was one of TIME’s 100 books of 2019, plus tons of other media.

I wrote two op-eds for the New York Times and continued writing my Resident Linguist column at Wired, and we made two special video episodes of my podcast, Lingthusiasm.

Book: Because Internet

There were over 200 media hits for Because Internet in 2019, at final count. Here are a few highlights:

Short-form Writing

Wired Resident Linguist column:

I also co-wrote an academic article with Lauren Gawne, Emoji as Digital Gestures in the journal Language@Internet [Open Access].

Events, Talks, and Videos

In January, I did a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the 5 Minute Linguist competition, both at the LSA annual meeting.

In March, I gave a comic talk at the festival of Bad Ad-hoc Hypotheses (BAHfest) about why we should make English spelling more weird and confusing, which you can watch online. Recommended if you like Unicode jokes.

In May, I recorded the Because Internet audiobook! Here’s a thread with my linguistic thoughts about the process and an audio sample of me reading the audiobook. 

In July, I went to the LSA Summer Institute in UC Davis, to do a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon focussing on articles about underrepresented languages, a talk about effective communication of linguistics to a general audience, and MC’d the 3 Minute Thesis event. Plus, I had book launch party in Montreal with Argo Bookshop!

In September, I did a book event in Toronto in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn. I also went to XOXO fest in Portland, and did two talks about the book in Seattle, with Textio and the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

In October, I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting at Sound Education in Boston. I was also on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and “What did we say before we said Cool?” at Scintillation, a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal.

I now have a speaking reel! So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like when I’m giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a five minute highlights video here!

I collaborated on several Language Files videos with youtuber Tom Scott:

Lingthusiasm Podcast

We celebrated our third year of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics which I make with Lauren Gawne. New this year were two video episodes, about gesture and signed languages, so that you can actually see them!

Here are all 24 episodes from 2019, 12 main episodes and 12 bonus episodes:

  1. How languages influence each other – Interview with Hannah Gibson on Swahili, Rangi, and Bantu languages
  2. The verb is the coat rack that the rest of the sentence hangs on
  3. Why do we gesture when we talk? (also a video episode!)
  4. Pop culture in Cook Islands Māori – Interview with Ake Nicholas
  5. You heard about it but I was there – Evidentials
  6. Why spelling is hard – but also hard to change
  7. Emoji are Gesture Because Internet
  8. Putting sounds into syllables is like putting toppings on a burger
  9. Villages, gifs, and children – Interview with Lynn Hou on signed languages in real-world contexts (also a video episode!)
  10. Smell words, both real and invented
  11. Many ways to talk about many things – Plurals, duals, and more
  12. How to rebalance a lopsided conversation

Bonus episodes on Patreon:

  1. Naming people (and especially babies)
  2. How the internet is making English better (liveshow from Melbourne)
  3. Adapting your language to other people
  4. How do radio announcers know how to pronounce all the names? With guest Tiger Webb
  5. Talking with dogs, horses, ravens, dolphins, bees, and other animals
  6. North, left, or towards the sea? With guest Alice Gaby
  7. Words from your family – Familects!
  8. Welcome aboard the metaphor train!
  9. Behind the scenes on Because Internet (Q&A)
  10. Jobs, locations, family, and invention – Surnames
  11. Reading fiction like a linguist
  12. The sounds of sheep, earthquakes, and ice cream – Onomatopoeia

We also made new Lingthusiasm merch, including  items with the best esoteric Unicode symbols on themadding socks, mugs, and notebooks in all our prints (IPA, tree diagrams, and esoteric symbols), onesies saying Little Longitudinal Language Acquisition Project, greeting cards that say “thanks” or “congrats” on them in IPA; the pun-tastic “glottal bottle” and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic “Correctness” is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

Selected twitter threads

Book-writing meta threads

Other threads 

Some books I enjoyed! 

Selected blog posts

I celebrated my seventh year blogging at All Things Linguistic! Here are some of my favourite posts from this year:

A series on Weird Internet Careers

Memes and linguist humour 

Other Linguistics 

Things about languages 

Linguistics jobs interviews

Lists and how to

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 20132014201520162017, and 2018. 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.

 

July 2019: Because Internet is published and makes the NYT Bestseller list!

There was a New York Times Daily review of Because Internet (paper version!). Here’s one of the very nice things that reviewer Jennifer Szalai had to say about it:

McCulloch is such a disarming writer — lucid, friendly, unequivocally excited about her subject — that I began to marvel at the flexibility of the online language she describes, with its numerous shades of subtlety.

There was also SO MUCH other media about the book, including reviews in Time, the Economist, The New Yorker, and more; excerpts or interviews in Wired, Slate, Vox, Salon, Vice, and more; and interviews on NPR All Things Considered and Science Friday, Slate’s Lexicon Valley, Grammar Girl, The Allusionist and the Cracked Podcast, just to pick a few. (Full list with hyperlinks below.) A great little ad also ran next to the NYT crossword puzzle in the print edition (photo).

As if that weren’t enough, Because Internet also hit the New York Times bestseller list at #9 in its first week! Huge, huge thanks to everyone who preordered it and bought it during the first week which made this happen.

I did a book launch party in Montreal with Argo Bookshop at the Atwater Library! I was especially excited about the cake with the cover of my book on it which allowed me to literally eat my words and the internet-themed youtube playlist that twitter helped us put together to project on a screen during the party. Many thanks to all the people who attended!

I did a collaboration with youtuber Tom Scott! The first video in this new round of Language Files videos is “why typing like this is sometimes okay.” and is directly based on Chapter 4 of Because Internet! Stay tuned for more Language Files videos with Tom and our new collaborator Molly Ruhl in future months.

Everything is also coming up Because Internet on Lingthusiasm! Our main episode was about the connections between gesture and emoji, aka the behind the scenes story of the part of the book where my podcast cohost Lauren Gawne makes a cameo! The bonus episode was about familects, not the book, but we also released a Special Offer on Patreon to get signed bookplate stickers. Our academic paper about emoji as digital gesture in the journal Language@Internet also came out this month, and Lauren wrote an accessible summary version of it for The Conversation which got picked up by Quartz. (We were very pleased to have to disclose that our Lingthusiasm patrons helped fund this research.) Also, I now have an Erdős number.

When people ask what it’s like to have this book I’ve been working on for five years finally come out, the best analogy that I can think of is that it’s like having it constantly be my birthday for the past several weeks: I’ve been hearing from so many people from all corners of my life who are excited to have spotted BECAUSE INTERNET in their local bookstore or library, or to have heard me on the radio or their favourite podcast. I haven’t always been able to reply to everyone individually, but I truly appreciate how many communities have claimed this book’s success as their own.

In non-book-related news, I also went to California to do a linguistics outreach event at the LSA Summer Institute in UC Davis, consisting of a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon focussing on articles about underrepresented languages in the afternoon, and in the evening doing a talk about effective communication of linguistics to a general audience and MCing the 3 Minute Thesis event. (A thread from an interesting talk I attended on language tech.)

Here is the truly staggering media list just for July alone for Because Internet, all 65 (!) items:

National Radio

National Print/Top Online

Newsletters:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online/Radio:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is real paper proof that Because Internet made the New York Times Bestseller list! because internet nyt bestseller list with emoji.jpg

May 2019: audiobook recording and early reviews of Because Internet, plus esoteric symbols scarves

I spent many hours this month in a soundbooth, recording my own audiobook for Because Internet! Unsurprisingly, doing all this talking gave me some linguistic thoughts, which I tweeted about here, including finally needing to take a side on the gif pronunciation wars, how to read keysmash out loud, loll versus ell oh ell, mIxEd CaPiTaLiZaTiOn, reading emoji out loud, putting on voices, linguist flexes, writing versus speaking, and my favourite linguist name fact. (Blog post version.)

The Because Internet audiobook is available on July 23, the same day as the hardcover and ebook versions, and you can preorder the audiobook on many platforms by following the links here!

Reviews are starting to come in for Because Internet: trade reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly (starred), and on recommended summer book lists for Elle Magazine, Esquire and Wired. Here’s an excerpt from PW:

McCulloch, writer of the “Resident Linguist” column for Wired and podcast cohost of Lingthusiasm, debuts with a funny and fascinating examination of the evolution of language in the digital age. Exploring everything from capitalization and punctuation to emojis and gifs, her book breaks down the structure of “internet language” in a precise and engaging way.

This month’s main episode of Lingthusiasm was You heard about it, but I was there – evidentiality (it also comes in a meme version), and the bonus episode was about animal communication. We also introduced new Lingthusiasm merch! Including esoteric symbols scarves, mugs, and notebooks, mugs and notebooks of our IPA scarf and tree diagram scarf designs, and onesies saying Little Longitudinal Language Acquisition Project. (Plus: a twitter thread about the obscure symbols fandom.)

My BAHfest talk about weird English spelling reform is now online. Recommended if you like Unicode jokes.

I’ve now been blogging at All Things Linguistic for 7 years! Here are my favourite posts from the past year and a retrospective thread on what blogging taught me about research and writing.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

 

This photo is from the soundbooth where I recorded the Because Internet audiobook, complete with MANY BEVERAGES.

because internet recording studio redacted

January 2019: Emoji kids, book cards, and #LSA2019

I wrote an article for Wired about preliterate kids texting with emoji. Plus, some bonus adorable examples that didn’t fit in the article.

I wrote an update post about how my book on internet language is going! The book now has a publicist, Shailyn Tavella and you can email her at stavella@prh.com for questions about review copies and interviews.

I also dropped by the fancy new Riverhead office in the Penguin building, made a few comments about Unicode and capitalization, and did a late-stage book editing pass involving reading the whole book out loud to myself which made me feel like David Attenborough.

At the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (this year in New York City), I judged the 5 Minute Linguist competition (video of all the talks here) and did a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon with a focus on underrepresented language articles for the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages. Threads from the LSA about bimodal (signed/spoken) bilingualismlinguistics high school teachers, and the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages (kickoff events).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was an interview with Hannah Gibson about language contact and Bantu languages, and the bonus episode was about naming people (and especially babies). Plus: when I found out that my cohost was embarking on a new longitudinal language acquisition project, there was only one gift I could give her.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s image is the stack of cards with my book’s cover on them that I got from my publisher to give out at the LSA. If you see me at a conference between now and when BECAUSE INTERNET is out, I’m happy to give you one too! Or stop by Argo Bookshop if you’re in Montreal to get a card and/or preorder a signed copy.

because internet book cards.jpg

August 2018: #LangFest18, Instagram, and Mastodon

I attended LangFest in Montreal, a conference for polyglots and language fans. See my livetweets from #LangFest18 here.

I was on KPCC AirTalk (LA’s NPR affiliate) talking about the exclamation point in text messaging.

The Lingthusiasm main episode was about When nothing means something (transcript) and the bonus episode was a behind the scenes look at several recent conferences: emoji, gesture, and the International Congress of Linguists.

I started fact-checking a book about emoji and the book was so hilaribad it turned into a thread-review (blog post summary).

I’ve started updating the instagram for All Things Linguistic more regularly! Go check it out if your instagram feed needs more interesting linguistics posts in it.

I’m also experimenting with Mastodon. You can follow me here as a person, or here for a daily linguistics post from All Things Linguistic.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is from July, when I was in Boston and paid a trip to the linguistics section of the MIT libraries. linguistics section MIT libraries bookshelfie.jpg

July 2018: Book heading into copyedits and EmojiCon in NYC

My book on internet language is now heading into copyedits and will be out sometime in mid-2019! I wrote a blog post about the latest stage of the writing process and I’ve been tweeting periodically about it as well. If you want to be the first to find out when there’s more news available, you can put your email address here and I’ll make sure you don’t miss anything.

I gave a talk about Emoji as Gesture at the second EmojiCon, in Brooklyn (see livetweets at #emojicon18), and went to Dartmouth for a workshop on Automatic Speech Recognition for Endangered Languages. I also met up with a bunch of interesting people while I was in the NYC and Boston areas and went to EmojiLand, a surprisingly deep musical about emoji!

This month’s Lingthusiasm main episode was about This, That, and The Other Thing – Determiners and the bonus episode was about words that look or sound the same and the cool sentences we can make from them, featuring The Buffalo Buffalo sentence and more.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is the sign of the excellently-named restaurant j’eat jet? (Did you eat yet?) in Brooklyn, near the venue for EmojiCon.

j'eat jet restaurant sign.jpg

June 2018: #Emoji2018 in San Francisco and multiple exclamation marks!!!

I went to the Emoji2018 workshop at Stanford and presented a paper by me and Lauren Gawne on Emoji Grammar as Beat Gestures – livetweets here, including threads of talks by Tyler Schnoebelen, Susan Herring, and a panel, and read our paper/check out our slides here.

I was in this Wired article about Emoji2018 and this Atlantic article about Multiple exclamation marks in internet speak!!!

The main Lingthusiasm episode was What words sound spiky across languages? Interview with Suzy Styles and the bonus was about Forensic Linguistics. We also made the IPA scarves available in rainbow, by popular request!

I also did a crossover episode with a podcast called Wah Wonders Why, about What if there was no moon?

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is the language section at Book Passage from when I was in San Francisco for Emoji2018.  Maker:S,Date:2017-11-21,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

March 2018: Emoji press, art, and best language podcasts

I was quoted in TIME talking about Dictionary.com’s decision to add entries for emoji and on CBC The Current talking about emoji in the courtroom.

This month’s Lingthusiasm episode was about Translating the Untranslatable (transcript) and the bonus episode was about the Grammar of Swearing (a tweet about our topic inspiration). We added a Teaching page with episodes listed by topic to the Lingthusiasm website. It was our one-year anniversary on Patreon and we hit our goal of commissioning some lingthusiastic art for everyone to enjoy!

Lingthusiasm was also featured on Dictionary.com’s list of best podcasts about language.

People really seemed to like this tweet about how I’m literally writing a whole book defending internet language.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s bookshelfie is the linguistics section at La Bouquinerie du Plateau, a bookstore in Montreal.  la bouquinerie du plateau montreal bookshelfie.jpg