April 2022: #103papers, Lingthusiasm liveshow, and LingComm Grantees

This month, I started a new reading project! It’s inspired by a paper by Evan Kidd and Rowena Garcia that came out last year, and which surveys the languages represented by all of the papers published in the four main child language acquistion research journals. Kidd & Garcia find that these journals contain papers about 103 languages; while this number is small compared to the total number of languages in the world (over 7000) and even the number of languages typically found in other cross-linguistic studies (the language maps at WALS often report data from 400-1200 languages), it does make for a relatively manageable reading list.

So that’s what I’m doing: reading one paper per language from this list, and posting a screenshot of the abstract and a my own tweet-length summary in this thread on twitter. At the rate of one paper per day, not quite every day, it’ll probably take me about four months. I’ve been missing going to conferences and finding out what people are working on in an informal fashion, which is different from diving in the literature to try and find out something specific for a lingcomm project, so this is an attempt to “refill the well” a bit.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was What it means for a language to be official. The bonus episode was Bonus 62: Approaching word games like a linguist – Interview with Nicole Holliday and Ben Zimmer of Spectacular Vernacular. We did a Lingthusiasm liveshow online via the Lingthusiasm Patron Discord! It was great to see everyone (about a hundred people!) in the chat in real time, as well as everyone who messaged us questions and sweary anecdotes beforehand.

We also announced the winners of the LingComm Grants, giving out a total of 5 Project Grants (including the Kirby Conrod Project Grant for projects related to gender and lingcomm) and 12 Startup Grants. You can see the full list of grantees here, and stay tuned for more about their exciting linguistics communication projects as they get to work on them in the coming months.

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This month’s image is from a short trip to Boston this month, featuring Because Internet hanging out the media section of Porter Square Books.

A well-stocked bookshelf labelled "media" featuring Because Internet in the bottom left corner and other many books (A few: The Hype Machine, How to Do Nothing, Twitter: A Biography, The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information)

March 2022: PIE Day and Memory Speaks

Here are some Pi Day (3rd month, 14th day) facts about the PIE (Proto-Indo-European). Both of these guys were named William Jones, confusingly enough.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Word order, we love (transcript). The bonus episode was Behind the scenes on how linguists come up with research topics. The deadline for the LingComm Grant applications was March 31st, so next month we head into reviewing the proposals!

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This month’s image is of the excellent book Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self by Julie Sedivy, which I greatly enjoyed reading! It’s a really interesting combination of pop science book and memoir, which we don’t see enough of in pop linguistics.

February 2022: Teaching with Because Internet survey and Lingthusiasm liveshow in April

I set up a survey for anyone who’s been using Because Internet for teaching – put in what you’ve been doing and I’ll compile and share it with other instructors!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Knowledge is power, copulas are fun. The bonus episode was Emoji, Mongolian, and Multiocular O ꙮ – Dispatches from the Unicode Conference.

We also announced a Lingthusiasm liveshow in April, a sweary liveshow about swearing, taking place on the Lingthusiasm Discord. Plus: a longer descriptive post about the LingComm Grants, of which there are now several more thanks to people who supported them!

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This month’s image is brought to you by linguistics takes on the Roses are Red poem.

Valingtine Poem on a gradient green to blue to purple background. 
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Ideas are green
And colourless too
#valingtines

January 2022: LSA, LingComm Grants, and spectrograms

I started the year at a rather surreal LSA 2022, the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, which I’d hoped to attend in person in Washington DC but moved online at the last minute, along with what seemed to be most of the other attendees. It was nonetheless nice to see people virtually as well as help judge the Five Minute Linguist competition again.

This month we also announced the return of the LingComm Grants, small grants to help fledgling linguistics communication projects get off the ground, sponsored by Lingthusiasm and several other generous contributors. We first ran these grants in 2020, and it’s been great to see that people are still enthusiastic about them.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Making speech visible with spectrograms, for which we did a special video segment where you can see the spectrograms as we make them! The bonus episode was a chat where we interview each other about seasons, word games, Unicode, and more updates coming on Lingthusiasm.

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This month’s photo is Because Internet hanging out in the history and culture section of Librarie Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal.

BECAUSE INTERNET sitting atop display books.

December 2021: pigeon calls and a bookmas tree

This month, I did a virtual event with Argo Bookshop where I talked with Rosemary Mosco about her book, A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching (I am especially pleased with the “linguistic tie-in” portion of the event where I got Rosemary to teach me how to make various pigeon calls and the audience played along, very much vibes of intro phonetics class).

I did an interview on the Notion podcast with Devon Zuegel. Here’s a quote from that:

“If you see it as, okay, language is always a moving target, it’s a living thing that exists in the minds of living beings, and nothing about human life or human society, or human culture is exactly the same from one generation to the next, and language just comes along as part of that.”

Notion: Gretchen McCulloch talks about why we talk the way we do online

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Where to get your English etymologies. The bonus episode was Linguistics puzzles for fun and olympiad glory.

I also went to WorldCon in Washington DC this December, which I didn’t join in time to be on any panels but I did meet several people who liked Because Internet and signed books for them!

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This month’s image is a charming bookmas tree from Etat de Style, a bookstore in Montreal.

Stacked book tower covered in holiday lights, pinecones, and ornaments.

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.