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:

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

September 2020: Crash Course Linguistics starts

Crash Course Linguistics videos started coming out this month!

This is a project I’ve been working on all year along with many excellent people, and I’m excited that the videos are finally getting to be seen, especially in a year when so much education has moved online. Stay tuned for all 16 of these 10-12 minute intro linguistics videos on Fridays until early 2021, except some holiday Fridays.

We’re also putting out accompanying issues of Mutual Intelligibility with each newsletter, thanks to Liz McCullough, featuring other resources and activities from around the internet, including practice problems (often from the linguistics olympiads).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about who you are in high school, linguistically speaking, an interview with Shivonne Gates, and the bonus was about pangrams, going beyond “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and into more obscure words and other writing systems.

Selected tweets:

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This month’s image is from a much-needed, distanced visit to the sea in the first half of the month.