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.

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.

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.

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

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

Linguistics jobs and other advice:

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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.

December 2020: Words of the Year

I did several media things this month on the theme of trying (insofar as it’s possible) to sum up this year: The Coronavirus’s New Words in the New York Times, Words of 2020! (and Metaphors, and Interfaces of the Year) on the a16z podcast, and a Bonus 2020 highlights episode from The Allusionist.

The Crash Course Linguistics episodes which came out this month were:

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about small talk and the bonus episode was a Q&A with lexicographer Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster about the process of making dictionaries. Thanks to our patrons for their great questions! If you want to suggest potential future guests and ask questions of them (along with getting access to bonus episodes and chatting with fellow linguistics enthusiasts in the Lingthusiasm Discord more generally), you can become a patron. Someone also made a Sporcle quiz about Lingthusiasm episodes, which we thought was very cool!

I went to the American Dialect Society’s annual Word of the Year vote, which is normally in person in early January at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, but this year as both have moved online, we were able to have the WotY vote at the end of December instead. A bit weird, but still nice to see familiar faces in the chat! The winner was, surprising no one at all, “covid”, and you can see the longer (and in my mind, more interesting) list of nominees in each category here.

A video with Tom Scott on the complicated question of how many languages there are.

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Lots of people seem to have received copies of Because Internet for Christmas this year, as it’s now in paperback, and have been tagging me in them on twitter and instagram, which is lovely! Here are some of them:

October 2020: More Crash Course, SBTB, #SciWri20

I had a very fun time doing this interview on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books this month, talking about the cheese plate as social technology, various language aspects of books I’ve read recently, and of course your ever-present Internet Linguistics Content. Here’s a quote:

Gretchen: So the interesting linguistic fact about Tooth and Claw is, I happen to know Jo Walton and she was telling me the story about the Japanese translation for Tooth and Claw. There’s a linguistic feature in Japanese where you have, like, categories for different types of entities in the world, and there’s one for humans and there’s one for monsters, and what the Japanese translator approached her for permission to do was, can I use the human category, this linguistic thing, for the dragons in this book, and for these other people, who are implicitly humans, but they’re external to the society – can I use the monster descriptor for them?

Sarah: [Gasps] Ohhh! Oh my.

Gretchen: [Laughs] And, and Jo was obviously like, oh my God, of course you can! I would have done this in English if I’d had the ability!

428. The Cheese Plate is a Technology: Because Internet with Gretchen McCulloch

The Crash Course Linguistics videos (10-12 minute videos about intro linguistics!) and their accompanying Mutual Intelligibility newsletters continued coming out this month, as the prophecy (er, scheduling calendar) foretold.

This month’s main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how translators approach a text, featuring that new translation of Beowulf that I’m super keen on, the Tale of Genji, and more. The bonus episode was about honorifics, that most esteemed and venerable of topics.

I’m pleased to report that the latest set of draft emoji from Unicode include three emoji that I co-wrote the proposals for, along with Lauren Gawne and Jennifer Daniel.

I virtually attended the online National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference, where I got to try out the Remo table-based proximity chat platform and also ran a “night owls hang out at the hotel bar” meetup in Gather. I also really liked this quote on how writing for the public is difficult and sublime.

Planet Word, the language museum in Washington DC that I’m on the Advisory Board for and have been watching the progress of with interest for several years, finally opened its doors! I watched the virtual ribbon cutting here (still online, if you’re curious) and I’m looking forward to eventually getting to see it in person one day.

A further video in my ongoing collaboration with Tom Scott, about the corpus statistics behind the pronunciation of “gif”.

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I didn’t really go anywhere this month, so here’s a small easter egg from inside a Crash Course Linguistics video.

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

June 2020: translation & public health, LingComm Grantees, and IPA masks

I wrote an article for Wired in which I got to talk with a lot of really interesting people about the importance of language to public health: Covid-19 Is History’s Biggest Translation Challenge.

You, a person who’s currently on the English-speaking internet in The Year of The Pandemic, have definitely seen public service information about Covid-19. You’ve probably been unable to escape seeing quite a lot of it, both online and offline, from handwashing posters to social distancing tape to instructional videos for face covering.

But if we want to avoid a pandemic spreading to all the humans in the world, this information also has to reach all the humans of the world—and that means translating Covid PSAs into as many languages as possible, in ways that are accurate and culturally appropriate.

It’s easy to overlook how important language is for health if you’re on the English-speaking internet, where “is this headache actually something to worry about?” is only a quick Wikipedia article or WebMD search away. For over half of the world’s population, people can’t expect to Google their symptoms, nor even necessarily get a pamphlet from their doctor explaining their diagnosis, because it’s not available in a language they can understand. […]

According to a regularly updated list maintained by the Endangered Languages Project, Covid information from reputable sources (such as governments, nonprofits, and volunteer groups that clearly cite the sources of their health advice) has been created in over 500 languages and counting, including over 400 videos in more than 150 languages. A few of these projects are shorter, more standardized information in a larger variety of global languages, such as translating the five WHO guidelines into posters in more than 220 languages or translating the WHO’s mythbuster fact sheets into over 60 languages. But many of them, especially the ones in languages that aren’t as well represented on the global stage, are created by individual, local groups who feel a responsibility to a particular area, including governments, nonprofits, and volunteer translators with a little more education or internet access.

Read the whole thing.

The Lingthusiasm main episode was about tracing languages back before recorded history (transcript) and the bonus episode was about doing linguistics with kids. We also released new nonmedical face masks, by popular request, in our IPA, tree diagram, and esoteric symbol prints. It’s a weird world where suddenly face masks are our most popular merch item, but we’re heartened to hear from people that it makes them feel a bit more cheerful about wearing a mask.

We also announced the winners of the 2020 LingComm Grants! We had over 75 applications from around the world and we’d like to thank all applicants for making the job of deciding extremely difficult! Stay tuned for further updates from these great projects:

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This month’s image is one of the new IPA masks, which I now also own! They’re made out of a soft, jersey-like material and are pretty comfortable for short wear.

IPA mask navy