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:

Media list:

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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

December 2019: NYT op-ed on Writing How We Talk, many year-in-review booklists, and a special leather-bound edition of Because Internet

I wrote a second op-ed for the New York Times this month! It’s part of their 2010s retrospective and it’s called We Learned to Write the Way We Talk. Here’s a quote:

Language snobbery is not inevitable. It’s not that people who cling to lists of language rules don’t want love as well. It’s that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods for how to get it. In high school English classes and writing manuals, we’ve been told that being “clear” and “correct” in language will help people understand us.

But understanding doesn’t come from insisting on a list of rules, shouting the same thing only louder like a hapless monolingual tourist in a foreign country. Understanding comes from meeting other people where they are, like being willing to use gestures and a handful of semi-remembered words and yes, even to look like a fool, to bridge a language barrier with laughter and humility.

We’ve been taught the lie that homogeneity leads to understanding, when in truth, understanding comes from better appreciating variety.

(Read the whole thing, or see my twitter thread with excerpts if you don’t have a NYT subscription.)

My latest Wired column was about how boomerspeak became a recognizable style for younger people to parody. Here’s an excerpt:

Boomerspeak’s canonical features include the dot dot dot, repeated commas, and the period at the end of a text message. It can also involve random mid-sentence capitalization, typing in all caps, double-spacing after a period, signing your name at the end of a text message, and confusion between the face with tears of joy emoji and the loudly crying emoji.

But it’s not just a question of intergenerational strife. Watching boomerspeak distill and crystalize into a distinct genre this year can help us understand a bigger phenomenon: how distinctive ways of speaking bubble up into the popular consciousness and become available for commentary or imitation, a linguistic process known as enregisterment.

(Read the whole thing and watch out for that last line!)

It’s year-in-review-booklist season, and Because Internet has indeed made some lists!

Here’s part of the blurb I wrote for Wired’s roundup list:

There’s always a risk, when it comes to Explaining The Youths, that said Youths will turn around and decide your explanation makes the thing no longer cool anymore (ahem, “ok boomer”). When I decided to write a book about internet language, I was worried this would be people’s response. But that’s not what I’ve been told about Because Internet. Instead, people tell me it’s helping them bridge generation gaps.

It was also very very fun to see people’s photos of giving or being given Because Internet as a gift, or finally having time to read Because Internet around the holidays! I’ve tried to like/comment/reshare as many as possible on twitter and instagram, and do feel free to keep tagging me there!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how to rebalance a lopsided conversation (helpful for all your smalltalk needs!) and the bonus episode was about onomatopoeia and sound symbolism. We also made one of last year’s bonus episodes, our Melbourne liveshow about internet linguistics, available to everyone as a special treatclick here to listen. Here’s a thread summing up all 24 episodes of 2019. We also enjoyed seeing everyone’s glottal bottles, IPA socks, and other Lingthusiasm merch gifts coming in!

I did two new videos in collaboration with Tom Scott, one about gesture and the other about priming and the replication crisis.

I posted the latter part of my Weird Internet Careers series:

If you want to get the Weird Internet Careers series as a 30-page document, plus bonus questions to ask yourself about starting your Weird Internet Career, you can sign up for these posts as a monthly newsletter.

Full media list: 

Roundups

  • Esquire.com – roundup “The Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 Span Everything From True Crime to Scammer Culture” – 12/3
  • Popsugar– roundup “18 Quirky Nonfiction Books That Will Make Perfect Holiday Gifts” – 12/3
  • Science Friday – roundup “The Best Science Books Of 2019” – 12/6
  • Vox – roundup “The best books I read in 2019” – 12/6
  • AtomicDust– roundup “What We’re Reading, Watching and Listening To Over Holiday Break” – 12/11
  • Bloomberg– roundup “Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 for Contrarians and the Curious” – 12/16
  • Blinkist – roundup “The Biggest Nonfiction Books of 2019” – 12/17
  • Better– roundup “The 10 Best Books of 2019”– 12/24
  • Lithhub – roundup “The Booksellers’ Year in Reading: Part 1”– 12/24
  • Popsugar – roundup “45 Nonfiction Books We Couldn’t Put Down in 2019”– 12/26
  • Read It Forward – roundup “Book Gifts for people who have everything”
  • Wired – roundup “12 Science Books You Should Read Right Now”

 

Features and Mentions

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This month’s photo is of a very special leather-bound edition of Because Internet that my publisher had made just for me, in celebration of my book becoming a bestseller! It’s the only one that exists and I am amazed. (They even raised the initial McC!)

because internet leatherbound closeup

 

September 2019: Book events in Toronto and Seattle, XOXO in Portland, and New York Times Op-Ed From the Future

I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (my first time writing there instead of being quoted!), from the perspective of 200 years in the future when people have nostalgia for the good old days of quaint emoji. Here’s one part that I liked (longer excerpt here).

The early 21st century was also a golden era for linguistic innovation related to using indirect constructed dialogue to convey actions and mental states. In speech, this era saw the rise of “be like” and in writing, the “me:” and *does something* conventions. (And I’m like, how did people even communicate their internal monologues without these?? also me: *shakes head* yeah I have no idea.)

We now take these linguistic resources for granted, but at the time they represented a significant advancement in modeling complex emotions and other internal conditions on behalf of oneself and other people. Imagine being limited to the previous generation of dialogue tags, which attempted to slice everything into sharp distinctions between “said,” “felt” and “thought.”

I was very proud that this op-ed got me no fewer than five (5!) entries in New New York Times, a twitter account that tracks words that appear in the New York Times for the first time. (Also, which unhyphenated compound word from the early 23rd century are you?)

I also did quite a lot of travel!

Torontobook event in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn.

PortlandXOXO fest where I held a language meetup for the second time, introducing people to the excellent word game called Contact, left some signed copies at Powells, and gave many Because Internet stickers to people!

Seattle – two talks about the book, one internally for Textio in the afternoon, and one in the evening for the public with the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

The third Language Files video in my recent collaboration with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the language sounds that could exist, but don’t (the forbidden grey boxes of the International Phonetic Alphabet).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was a bilingual video episode interviewing linguist Dr Lynn Hou about her research on signed languages in natural contexts, including ASL on youtube and Chatino Sign Language, in ASL and English. The bonus episode was a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process for Because Internet. Watch the video episode here:

My keynote talk about internet linguistics at the CoEDL Summer School in Canberra, Australia last year went online. I also switched this monthly newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack (existing subscribers were already migrated, and you can still view it online at gretchenmcculloch.com/news, but if you’d like to get an email when I write a new post like this, you can sign up here).

I spent a week at a friend’s cottage by a lake for a much-needed respite, where I wasn’t on the internet much but did enjoy JY Yang’s Tensorate series :)

Long list of media from this month:

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National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters & Blogs:

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Here’s a photo of me and Ryan North just before our event in Toronto, featuring the really excellent sign based on Because Internet that The Ossington made for us!

because internet event ossington toronto gretchen mcculloch ryan north.jpg

November 2017: IPA scarves and more Lingthusiasm merch

The main Lingthusiasm episode was a deep dive into, around, and through the fascinating world of prepositions, and the bonus was about the tricky question of whether a burrito or an oreo is a sandwich. We also hit 100k listens in time for our first anniversary, and launched a line of lingthusiastic merch: scarves with the International Phonetic Alphabet on them, and mugs, shirts, totes and more that say NOT JUDGING YOUR GRAMMAR, JUST ANALYSING IT. Here’s why we made IPA scarves and why we made pro-descriptivist merch.

I didn’t get to NWAV46 in Madison, Wisconsin myself, but Jeff Lamontagne presented our coauthored poster about letter repetition on French twitter. I was quoted in this Business Insider article about new words in Words With Friends. I was also in this Planet Word Advisory Board crossword puzzle!

Had some fun on twitter with Christmas-themed rewrites of the William Carlos Williams plum meme poem: see hashtag #WilliamCarolsWilliams or follow the thread here. (A few ended up in Buzzfeed.)

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s image is my red IPA scarf which I took out for a cup of coffee with me!

Maker:S,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-ve