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.

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.

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.)

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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:

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

July 2020: Because Internet in paperback!

Because Internet, my book about internet language, is now available in paperback! 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. Because Internet was also featured in Paperback Row, the New York Times’s list of paperback books that came out this week, among other media (below). (There was also, briefly, one of those ebook sales.)

My Wired article about preliterate children texting in emoji from a while back was translated for Wired Japan. Here it is in Japanese and here it is in English again.

Lauren Gawne and I gave a talk for Abralin, the Brazilian Linguistics Association, about emoji and gesture. You can watch it online here on the Abralin youtube channel. (Auto-captions only; for similar content already in text form see our slides, this livetweet thread, our paper about emoji as gesture or the transcript of our Lingthusiasm episode about emoji and gesture in Because Internet.)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about phatic expressions like “hey”, “no problem” and “bye” and the bonus was about linguistics and music, including tones, drums, and whistled languages.

If you’re a Lingthusiasm fan, and you’re considering reading the Because Internet audiobook but you wish Lauren was there too, not just my voice all by itself, we now have a solution to that problem! That’s right, we’ve made a clip of Lauren-backchannelling audio that you can now play on loop in the other ear while you listen to the Because Internet audiobook.

Lauren and I also finally finished the bulk of the writing on the scripts for Crash Course Linguistics this month! We’ve been working on this intensively since March, not to mention the planning side in previous months. The Crash Course and Thought Cafe teams are now moving into exciting things that we’re less involved in, like filming and animating, although we’ll still be keeping an eye on technical accuracy as it goes along. I’m excited to share that the 16 ten-minute intro linguistics videos will be going up on the Crash Course youtube channel starting in September! If you want to get emails with each of the Crash Course Linguistics videos and suggested further reading/activities as they go up, you can sign up for the Mutual Intelligibility newsletter.

I did an edition of Mutual Intelligibility about teaching internet linguistics in honour of Because Internet coming out in paperback, along with several other great resources in the internet linguistics domain.

Media list:

  • Rotten Tomatoes – mention “WHY AIRPLANE!’S TITLE IS ONE OF THE CLASSIC COMEDY’S BEST JOKES” – 7/2
  • The New York Times – interview “A Short History of ‘Simp’” – 7/7
  • Grist – mention “Is nature all healed now? A look at the pandemic’s best meme” – 7/9
  • Daily Beast – mention – 7/17
  • Inverse – mention “Comic-con@Home” – 7/29
  • Against The Grain – Book of the Week  – 7/31
  • New York Times – paperback row – 8/2

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This month’s image is, of course, that snazzy paperback edition of Because Internet! The inside is pretty much the same, except that there are now two entire pages of fancy people saying nice things at the front, which you can see here, should you desire. But it’s also just been really gratifying over the past year to hear from so many regular internet people on social media finding yourselves in its pages. Thank you.

Because Internet paperback on esoteric symbols scarf

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

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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

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

rosetta disk panlex sunset